Micro-topography mediates interactions between corals, algae, and herbivorous fishes on coral reefs
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Processes occurring during the early life stages of corals are important for the replenishment of coral assemblages and the resilience of coral reefs. However, the factors influencing early life stages of corals are not well understood, and the role of micro-topographic complexity for habitat associations of juvenile corals is largely unexplored. This study investigated the microhabitat distribution patterns of early life stages of corals and a potential macroalgal competitor (Turbinaria ornata) across two reef zones (reef crest and outer reef flat) on Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef. In both reef zones, both corals and T. ornata were significantly more abundant in concealed microhabitats than in semi-concealed or open microhabitats (GLMM: P < 0.001). The prevalence of juvenile corals and T. ornata within concealed environments suggests that they might be effective refuges from grazing by herbivorous fishes. The density of juvenile corals was positively related, and density of T. ornata negatively related to the abundance of two groups of herbivorous fishes, pairing rabbitfishes, and surgeonfishes in the genus Zebrasoma (BEST ENV-BIO: r s = 0.72, P < 0.01), which feed in concealed microhabitats. This correlative evidence suggests that crevices may be important for early life stages of both coral and macroalgae, and that a specific suite of crevice-feeding fishes may influence benthic community dynamics in these microhabitats.
KeywordsJuvenile corals Turbinaria ornata Herbivorous fishes Microhabitats Macroalgae
We thank JR Hodge and Lizard Island Research Station for field support and MO Hoogenboom, HPA Sweatman, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts; this research was supported by the Australian Research Council (ASH, DRB).
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