Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 4, pp 569–577 | Cite as

Predators selectively graze reproductive structures in a clonal marine organism

  • Randi D. Rotjan
  • Sara M. Lewis
Original Paper


Although the fitness consequences of herbivory on terrestrial plants have been extensively studied, considerably less is known about how partial predation impacts the fitness of clonal marine organisms. The trophic role of Caribbean parrotfish on coral reefs is complex: while these fish are important herbivores, as corallivores (consumers of live coral tissue), they selectively graze specific species and colonies of reef-building corals. Though the benefits of parrotfish herbivory for reef resilience and conservation are well documented, the negative consequences of parrotfish grazing for coral reproductive fitness have not been previously determined. We examined recently grazed colonies of Montastraea annularis corals to determine whether grazing was positively associated with coral reproductive effort. We measured gonad number, egg number and size, and proportional reproductive allocation for grazed and intact coral colonies 2–5 days prior to their annual spawning time. We found that parrotfish selectively grazed coral polyps with high total reproductive effort (number of gonads), providing the first evidence that parrotfish selectively target specific tissue areas within a single coral colony. The removal of polyps with high reproductive effort has direct adverse affects on coral fitness, with additional indirect implications for colony growth and survival. We conclude that chronic grazing by parrotfishes has negative fitness consequences for reef-building corals, and by extension, reef ecosystems.


Reproductive Effort Coral Polyp Intact Coloni High Reproductive Effort Grazing Scar 



This is Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems (CCRE) contribution number 792, supported in part by the Hunterdon Oceanographic Research Fund and the Smithsonian Institution. We thank A. Steinbrenner for his patience and careful help in measuring egg size using our MATLAB program, and we thank J. Chabot for his help in the design and coding of our egg area measurement program. We are grateful to A. Szmant, E. Peters and G. Ellmore for their generous help in developing our methods. We thank S. Arnold and J. Brown for their diving assistance, and we thank R. Aronson, T. Fedina, A. South, K. Levan, and J. Dimond for helpful conversations about these results. The experiments performed here comply with the current laws of Belize and the United States, and corals samples were collected under CITES permit number 1420, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  2. 2.Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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