Branching coral as a macroalgal refuge in a marginal coral reef system
- 350 Downloads
Marginal coral reef systems may provide valuable insights into the nature of ecosystem processes in systems on the trajectory towards a phase shift to an alternate ecosystem state. This study investigates the process of herbivory in a marginal coral reef system in the Keppel Islands at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Branching Acropora coral and the brown macroalga Lobophora variegata occupied up to 95% of the reef crest substratum at the three surveyed reefs. Feeding rates of herbivorous fishes and removal rates of Lobophora were directly quantified within areas of branching Acropora and on planar surfaces. Feeding rates by herbivorous fishes were habitat dependent with the highest bite rates being found in planar habitats for both Lobophora and the epilithic algal matrix (EAM) by 1–2 orders of magnitude, respectively. Feeding rates on Lobophora were, however, much lower than rates on the EAM. The low rates of Lobophora removal and significantly lower rates of herbivory in branching habitats were consistent with the high biomass of this brown alga throughout the Keppel Islands and with its distribution on reef crests, where Lobophora biomass was 20 times greater in branching than in planar habitats. This lack of feeding by herbivorous fishes within branching coral habitats in the Keppel Islands contrasts with the typical role of coral and topographic complexity on herbivores on coral reefs and highlights the potential for complex interactions between algae, corals and fishes on coral reefs. On marginal systems, herbivory may modify algal distributions but may be unable to contain the proliferation of algae such as Lobophora.
KeywordsHerbivory Lobophora variegata Ecosystem function Phase shift Resilience Coral reef
We thank R. Fox, A. Hoey, C. Lefévre, V. Moccellin, J. Tanner, P. Williams and S. Wismer for invaluable field assistance and/or helpful advice. The constructive comments of L. McCook and G. Diaz-Pulido are gratefully appreciated. This study was funded by the Australian Government’s Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility and the Australian Research Council.
- Choat JH (1991) The biology of herbivorous fishes on coral reefs. In: Sale PF (ed) The ecology of fishes on coral reefs. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 120–155Google Scholar
- Elvidge C, Dietz J, Berkelmans R, Andréfouët S, Skirving W, Strong A, Tuttle B (2004) Satellite observation of Keppel Islands (Great Barrier Reef) 2002 coral bleaching using IKONOS data. Coral Reefs 23:123–132Google Scholar
- Harmelin-Vivien M (2002) Energetics and fish diversity on coral reefs. In: Sale PF (ed) Coral reef fishes: dynamics and diversity in a complex ecosystem. Academic Press, New York, pp 265–274Google Scholar
- Hughes TP, Baird AH, Bellwood DR, Card M, Connolly SR, Folke C, Grosberg R, Hoegh-Guldberg O, Jackson JBC, Kleypas J, Lough JM, Marshall P, Nystrom M, Palumbi SR, Pandolfi JM, Rosen B, Roughgarden J (2003) Climate change, human impacts, and the resilience of coral reefs. Science 301:929–933CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar