Coral Reefs

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 827–837

Associational refuges among corals mediate impacts of a crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster planci outbreak

Indirect positive interactions in communities
  • Mohsen Kayal
  • Hunter S. Lenihan
  • Cédric Pau
  • Lucie Penin
  • Mehdi Adjeroud
Report

Abstract

Interactions among coral populations can moderate the impact of coral predator outbreaks, enhancing community resilience and recovery. This study used predator-exclusion cages and neighbour removals in a field experiment to test how indirect interactions between populations of three coral taxa, Acropora, Pocillopora, and Porites, influenced their survival during an outbreak of the crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci, in Moorea, French Polynesia. High densities of corals enhanced survival by generating associational refuges: physical structures that impeded Acanthaster and protected corals, and by simple density-dependent prey dilution that reduced predation rates. Acanthaster showed feeding preferences, resulting in varying intensities of predation on corals, which (1) influenced the type and strength of the associational refuge among corals and (2) resulted in significant loss of the competitive dominants to the benefit of the competitive inferiors. The result was a set of indirect positive interactions (IPIs) that prevented Acanthaster from eradicating Acropora and may have enhanced Porites, a relatively weak competitor among corals. IPIs probably play a key role in many ecosystems, especially in coral reefs in which corals act as engineer species, to reduce impacts of perturbations and enhance community resilience. This study illustrates the importance of IPIs in community regulation with a new conceptual model.

Keywords

Predation Mortality Habitat complexity Indirect positive interaction Community regulation Resilience 

Supplementary material

338_2011_763_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (10 kb)
ESM 1 Figure showing the density of Acanthaster planci on study site in Moorea, French Polynesia (PDF 11 kb)
338_2011_763_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (13 kb)
ESM 2 Protocol and results of the tests on the impact of caging treatments on light, mass water exchange, and sedimentation (PDF 13 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mohsen Kayal
    • 1
    • 2
  • Hunter S. Lenihan
    • 3
  • Cédric Pau
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lucie Penin
    • 2
    • 1
    • 4
  • Mehdi Adjeroud
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.USR 3278 CNRS-EPHE, Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’EnvironnementPapetoai, MooreaFrench Polynesia
  2. 2.UMR 5244 CNRS-EPHE-UPVD, Biologie et Ecologie Tropicale et MéditerranéenneUniversité de Perpignan Via DomitiaPerpignan CedexFrance
  3. 3.Bren School of Environmental Science and ManagementUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  4. 4.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  5. 5.Institut de Recherche pour le DéveloppementUnité 227 CoRéUs2 “Biocomplexité des écosystèmes coralliens de l’Indo-Pacifique”Nouméa CedexNew Caledonia

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