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Oecologia

, Volume 181, Issue 1, pp 161–173 | Cite as

Asymmetric competition prevents the outbreak of an opportunistic species after coral reef degradation

  • Manuel González-Rivero
  • Yves-Marie Bozec
  • Iliana Chollett
  • Renata Ferrari
  • Christine H. L. Schönberg
  • Peter J. Mumby
Community ecology – original research

Abstract

Disturbance releases space and allows the growth of opportunistic species, excluded by the old stands, with a potential to alter community dynamics. In coral reefs, abundances of fast-growing, and disturbance-tolerant sponges are expected to increase and dominate as space becomes available following acute coral mortality events. Yet, an increase in abundance of these opportunistic species has been reported in only a few studies, suggesting certain mechanisms may be acting to regulate sponge populations. To gain insights into mechanisms of population control, we simulated the dynamics of the common reef-excavating sponge Cliona tenuis in the Caribbean using an individual-based model. An orthogonal hypothesis testing approach was used, where four candidate mechanisms—algal competition, stock-recruitment limitation, whole and partial mortality—were incorporated sequentially into the model and the results were tested against independent field observations taken over a decade in Belize, Central America. We found that releasing space after coral mortality can promote C. tenuis outbreaks, but such outbreaks can be curtailed by macroalgal competition. The asymmetrical competitive superiority of macroalgae, given by their capacity to pre-empt space and outcompete with the sponge in a size-dependant fashion, supports their capacity to steal the opportunity from other opportunists. While multiple system stages can be expected in coral reefs following intense perturbation macroalgae may prevent the growth of other space-occupiers, such as bioeroding sponges, under low grazing pressure.

Keywords

Disturbance Population regulation Transient ecosystems Marine ecosystems Porifera 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the contribution of five anonymous reviewers and the handling editor, S. Sandin, to the final version of the manuscript. This study was funded by: (1) the Fondo Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación to MGR, (2) the Wildlife Conservation Society and Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation to R. F., and (3) the Natural Environment Research Council and ARC Laureate Fellowship to P. J. M. We are grateful to the WCS Belize staff and volunteers for their generous field assistance, and to S. O’Farrell, A. Harborne, E. Johnston and C. Doropoulos for editorial comments.

Author contribution statement

M. G. R. and P. J. M. conceived and designed the field surveys and the ecosystem model. M. G. R., R. F. and P. J. M. performed the field surveys. M. G. R., Y. M. B., I. C. and P. J. M. designed and performed the data analysis. M. G. R., P. J. M., I. C. and Y. M. B. wrote the manuscript; other authors provided editorial advice.

Supplementary material

442_2015_3541_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1117 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological Sciences and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesUniversity of QueenslandSt. LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.College of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  3. 3.Oceans InstituteUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  4. 4.Global Change InstituteUniversity of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  5. 5.Smithsonian Marine Station, Smithsonian InstitutionFort PierceUSA
  6. 6.Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Group, School of Biological Sciences and Australian Centre for Field RoboticsUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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