Marine Biology

, Volume 159, Issue 5, pp 1143–1154 | Cite as

The distribution of herbivorous fishes on the Great Barrier Reef

  • Alistair Cheal
  • Michael Emslie
  • Ian Miller
  • Hugh Sweatman
Original Paper


The composition and functionality of ecologically important herbivorous fish assemblages were examined throughout much of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Diversity and abundance of surgeonfishes (Acanthuridae), parrotfishes (Labridae) and rabbitfishes (Siganidae) were strongly associated with position on the continental shelf, whilst effects of latitude were weaker and inconsistent. Species distributions varied considerably amongst taxonomic groups; parrotfishes were mostly widespread whilst distributions of surgeonfishes were often restricted. Most inshore environments supported depauperate herbivore assemblages dominated by different taxa and functional groups compared with assemblages in offshore environments. There were also strong cross-shelf transitions in the main taxa performing each functional role. Overall, this study show that the functional contributions of herbivorous fish assemblages to important ecosystem processes and the contributing taxa vary considerably amongst different GBR environments. Additionally, the two most numerically dominant herbivores actively select detritus, not algae, supporting increasing evidence for the importance of detritus in coral reef ecology.


Great Barrier Reef Herbivorous Fish Total Species Richness Outer Reef Inshore Reef 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank members of the AIMS long-term monitoring team and the crew of research vessels, past and present, for their various contributions to the collection of data used in this study. The helpful comments of three anonymous reviewers are also appreciated. The study was supported by AIMS, the CRC Reef Research Centre and the Australian Governments’s Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alistair Cheal
    • 1
  • Michael Emslie
    • 1
  • Ian Miller
    • 1
  • Hugh Sweatman
    • 1
  1. 1.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceCape Ferguson, TownsvilleAustralia

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