Seasonally changing habitat use patterns among roving herbivorous fishes in the southern Red Sea: the role of temperature and algal community structure
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- Afeworki, Y., Videler, J.J. & Bruggemann, J.H. Coral Reefs (2013) 32: 475. doi:10.1007/s00338-012-1000-2
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Coral reefs are characterized by intense herbivory. Spatial patterns in herbivory—particularly along the depth gradient—influence the distribution and abundance of algae. Depth gradients in herbivorous reef fishes are generally assumed to be temporally stable, but this assumption has rarely been questioned. Here, we use underwater visual census and herbivore exclusion experiments to study the community composition and temporal patterns in habitat use by roving herbivorous fishes in an environment characterized by profound seasonal changes in algal biomass and distribution and extreme summer temperatures. Among the 18 species of roving herbivores recorded, parrotfishes were dominant in species richness and biomass, while regional endemic species represented 77 % of the total biomass. During most of the year, roving herbivores aggregate in the shallow reef zones and their biomass declines with depth. The herbivore community on the reef flat is distinct from that in deeper zones. The former is characterized by Siganus rivulatus, Acanthurus gahhm andHipposcarus harid, while the deeper reef zones are characterized by S. ferrugineus, Chlorurus sordidus and Ctenochaetus striatus. In summer, the distinct community structures among reef zones are lost as reef flat herbivores tend to exploit deeper reef zones and some reef crest species venture on to the reef flat. This summer change in herbivore distribution is also reflected in reduced turf biomass and increased yield to herbivores in the deeper reef zones. Habitat use is related to the feeding mode such that browsers dominate the reef flat and scrapers the reef crest, while the seasonal changes correspond to changes in availability of targeted algal resources. These seasonal changes appear to be driven by the extreme temperatures in summer, reaching 36 °C on the shallow reef flat.