, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 499-506
Date: 20 Feb 2009

Effects of frequent fish predation on corals in Hawaii

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Abstract

The abundance of lesions from fish bites on corals was quantified at nine shallow reefs in the main Hawaiian Islands. There were on average 117 bite scars m−2 on Pocillopora meandrina tissue from the barred filefish Cantherhines dumerilii, 69 bites m−2 on Porites compressa tissue, and 4 bites m−2 on Porites lobata tissue from the spotted puffer Arothron meleagris. Across sites, the frequency of A. meleagris bites on P. compressa per unit area of living coral cover declined exponentially with increasing coral cover. P. compressa nubbins in two size classes (1–2 cm and 4–5 cm) were transplanted onto six study reefs. Nubbins in the small size class were entirely removed by bites from A. meleagris, while nubbins ≥4 cm were only partially consumed, leaving them able to recover. At sites with abundant P. compressa, predation had little effect on transplanted nubbins; at sites where P. compressa comprised less than 5% of living cover, all nubbins were preyed upon. A. meleagris bite lesions on P. compressa were monitored through time and fully recovered in 42 ± 4 days. A model of the risk of over-predation (a second predation event before the first is healed) decreased exponentially with increasing coral cover and increased linearly with increasing lesion healing time. The increased risk of over-predation at low coral cover could indicate an Allee effect limiting the recovery of coral populations if coral cover is substantially reduced by natural or anthropogenic disturbances.

Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Mark McCormick