Coral Reefs

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 285–291 | Cite as

Low-quality sediments deter grazing by the parrotfish Scarus rivulatus on inner-shelf reefs

  • Sophie E. GordonEmail author
  • Christopher H. R. Goatley
  • David R. Bellwood


Elevated sediment loads in the epilithic algal matrix (EAM) deter grazing by herbivorous fishes and may compromise their critical roles on coral reefs. However, the properties of sediments that drive herbivore deterrence are unknown. Binary choice trials in aquaria were used to examine the effects of three sediment attributes—sediment source, grain size and organic load—on grazing by the abundant inner-shelf parrotfish, Scarus rivulatus. Fish were presented with a choice between EAM-covered rocks treated with (a) terrigenous or reefal sediments, (b) fine or coarse sediments or (c) sediments with high or low organic loads. Scarus rivulatus did not show a preference for sediments from different sources (terrigenous vs. reefal); however, a clear preference was evident for fine-grained sediments over coarse (109 % more bites) and sediments with high organic loads over low (147 % more bites). The avoidance of coarse sediments is likely to be a key factor driving the inhibition of grazing on mid-shelf reefs, which are dominated by coarse sediments. In contrast, on inner-shelf reefs, grazing by parrotfishes may be deterred primarily by high sediment loads, which reduce the proportional organic content in EAM sediments. Our study highlights the potential impact of sediments on critical ecological processes and the threats posed by changing sediment loads on inner-shelf reefs.


Herbivory Algae Inner-shelf reef Parrotfish Resilience Terrestrial sediments 



We thank P. Smallhorn-West, T. Healy, R. McAndrews, J. Khan, C. Buelow, T. Stephens, G. Molinaro, A. Cabrera-Garcia, W. Haydon and the staff of Orpheus Island Research Station for field assistance, C. Grant and R. Warburton for laboratory assistance and R. Baker, N. Gardiner, P. Munday, M. Kramer and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Research was funded by the Australian Research Council (DRB).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 328 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sophie E. Gordon
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher H. R. Goatley
    • 1
  • David R. Bellwood
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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