Marine Biology

, Volume 111, Issue 3, pp 437–444 | Cite as

Increases in surgeonfish populations after mass mortality of the sea urchinDiadema antillarum in Panamá indicate food limitation

  • D. R. Robertson


In 1983/1984,Diadema antillarum suffered mass mortalities throughout its West Atlantic range. Its populations were reduced by 95% and subsequently have failed to recover. These die-offs led to sustained increases in the abundance of soft algae, including types eaten by herbivorous reef fishes. I monitored adult populations of three herbivorous surgeonfishes (Acanthurus coeruleus, A. chirurugus andA. bahianus) between 1978 and 1990, and the recruitment of their pelagic juveniles between 1979 and 1989, on six patch reefs in Panamá. Adult populations ofA. coeruleus andA. chirurgus, which largely restrict their feeding to reef substrata, increased by averages of 250 and 160%, respectively, after the die-off ofD. antillarum in 1983. No increases occurred in the adult populations ofA. bahianus, which often feeds in off-reef habitats unaffected byD. antillarum. Average annual levels of juvenile recruitment of all three surgeonfishes did not differ before and after the die-off. These results support the hypothesis that adult populations of two herbivorous fishes that are strongly reliant on reef algae for food previously were limited by competition withD. antillarum.


Adult Population Food Limitation Reef Fish Sustained Increase Patch Reef 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Literature cited

  1. Booth, D. J. (1991). The effects of sampling frequency on estimates of recruitment of the domino damselfishDascyllus albisella Gill. J. exp. mar. Biol. Ecol. 145: 149–159Google Scholar
  2. Bouchon-Navaro, Y., Bouchon, C., Harmelin-Vivien, M. (1985). Impacts of coral degradation on a chaetodontid fish assemblage (Mooréa, French Polynesia). Proc. 5th int. coral Reef Congr. 5: 427–432 [Gabrie, C. et al. (eds.) Antenne Museum-EPHE, Moorea, French Polynesia]Google Scholar
  3. Carpenter, R. C. (1985). Sea urchin mass mortality effects on reef algal abundance, species composition and net metabolism and other coral reef herbivores. Proc. 5th int. Coral Reef Congr. 4: 53–60 [Gabrie, C. et al. (eds.) Antenne Museum-EPHE, Moorea, French Polynesia]Google Scholar
  4. Carpenter, R. C. (1988). Mass mortality of a Caribbean sea urchin: immediate effects on community metabolism and other herbivores. Proc. natn. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 85: 511–514Google Scholar
  5. Carpenter, R. C. (1990). Mass mortality ofDiadema antillarum. II. Effects on population densities and grazing intensity of parrotfishes and surgeonfishes. Mar. Biol. 104: 79–86Google Scholar
  6. Clavijo, I. (1974). A contribution on feeding habits of three species of acanthurids (Pisces) from the West Indies. M. Sc. thesis. Florida Atlantic University, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  7. Doherty, P. J., Sale, P. F. (1986). Predation on juvenile coral reef fishes: an exclusion experiment. Coral Reefs 4: 225–234Google Scholar
  8. Doherty, P. J., Williams, D. McB. (1988). The replenishment of coral reef fish populations. Oceanogr. mar. Biol. A. Rev. 26: 487–551Google Scholar
  9. Doherty, P. J., Williams, D. McB. (1989). Are local populations of coral reef fishes equilibrial assemblages? The empirical database. Proc. 6th int. coral Reef Symp. 1: 131–139 [Choat, J. H. et al. (eds.) Sixth International Coral Reef Symposium Executive Committee, Townsville]Google Scholar
  10. Forrester, G. E. (1990). Factors influencing the juvenile demography of a coral reef fish. Ecology 71: 1666–1681Google Scholar
  11. Foster, S. A. (1985). Size dependent territory defense by a damselfish. A determinant of resource use by group-foraging surgeonfishes. Oecologia 67: 499–505Google Scholar
  12. Foster, S. A. (1987). The relative impacts of grazing by Caribbean coral reef fishes andDiadema: effects of habitat and surge. J. exp. mar. Biol. Ecol. 105: 1–20Google Scholar
  13. Guzman, H. M., Robertson, D. R. (1989). Population and feeding responses of the corallivorous pufferfishArothron meleagris to coral mortality in the eastern Pacific. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 55: 121–131Google Scholar
  14. Hay, M. E., Taylor, P. R. (1985). Competition between herbivorous fishes and urchins in Caribbean reefs. Oecologia 65: 591–598Google Scholar
  15. Hughes, T. P., Reed, D. C., Boyle, M. J. (1987). Herbivory on coral reefs: community structure following mass mortalities of sea urchins. J. exp. mar. Biol. Ecol. 113: 39–59Google Scholar
  16. Jones, G. P. (1986). Food availability affects growth in a coral reef fish. Oecologia 70: 136–139Google Scholar
  17. Lessios, H. A. (1988a). Mass mortality ofDiadema antillarum in the Caribbean: what have we learned? A. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 19: 371–393Google Scholar
  18. Lessios, H. A. (1988b). Population dynamics ofDiadema antillarum (Echinodermata: Echinoidea) following mass mortality in Panamá. Mar. Biol. 99: 515–526Google Scholar
  19. Lessios, H. A., Cubit, J. D., Robertson, D. R., Shulman, M. J., Parker, M. R., Garrity, S. D., Levings, S. C. (1984a). Mass mortality ofDiadema antillarum on the Caribbean coast of Panama. Coral Reefs 3: 173–182Google Scholar
  20. Lessios, H. A., Robertson, D. R., Cubit, J. D. (1984b). Spread ofDiadema mass mortality through the Caribbean. Science, N.Y. 226: 335–337Google Scholar
  21. Levitan, D. R. (1988). Algal-urchin biomass responses following mass mortality ofDiadema antillarum Philippi at St. John, US Virgin Islands. J. exp. mar. Biol. Ecol. 119: 167–178Google Scholar
  22. Lewis, S. M., Wainwright P. (1985). Herbivore abundance and grazing intensity on a Caribbean coral reef. J. exp. mar. Biol. Ecol. 87: 215–228Google Scholar
  23. Liddell, W. D., Ohlhorst, S. L. (1986). Changes in benthic community composition following the mass mortality ofDiadema in Jamaica. J. exp. mar. Biol. Ecol. 95: 271–278Google Scholar
  24. Morrison, D. (1988). Comparing fish and urching grazing in shallow and deeper coral reef algal communities. Ecology 69: 1367–1382Google Scholar
  25. Munro, J. L. (1983). Epilogue. In: Munro, J. L. (ed.) Progress in coral reef fisheries research, 1973–1982. Caribbean Coral Reef Fisheries Resources ICLARM, Manila, p. 249–265Google Scholar
  26. Ogden, J. C. (1976). Some aspects of herbivore-plant relationships on Caribbean reefs and seagrass beds. Aquat. Bot. 2: 103–116Google Scholar
  27. Randall, J. E. (1967). Food habits of reef fishes of the West Indies. Stud. trop. Oceanogr. 5: 665–847Google Scholar
  28. Robertson, D. R. (1984). Cohabitation of competing territorial damselfishes on a Caribbean coral reef. Ecology 65: 1121–1135Google Scholar
  29. Robertson, D. R. (1987). Responses of two coral reef toadfishes (Batrachoididae) to the demise of their primary prey, the sea urchinDiadema antillarum. Copeia 1987: 637–642Google Scholar
  30. Robertson, D. R. (1988). Abundances of surgeonfishes on patchreefs in Caribbean Panamá: due to settlement, or post-settlement events? Mar. Biol. 97: 495–501Google Scholar
  31. Sale, P. F. (1980). The ecology of fishes on coral reefs. Oceanogr. mar. Biol. A. Rev. 18: 367–421Google Scholar
  32. Sale, P. F. (1984). The structure of communities of fish on coral reefs and the merit of a hypothesis-testing manipulative approach to ecology. In: Strong, D. R., Simberloff, D., Abele, L. G., Thistle, A. B. (eds.) Ecological community: conceptual issues and the evidence. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N. J., p. 478–490Google Scholar
  33. Sale, P. F., Ferrell, D. J. (1988). Early survivorship of juvenile coral reef fishes. Coral Reefs 7: 117–124Google Scholar
  34. Sammarco, P. W. (1982). Effects of grazing byDiadema antillarum Philippi (Echinodermata: Echinoidea) on algal diversity and community structure. J. exp. mar. Biol. Ecol. 65: 83–105Google Scholar
  35. Sano, M., Shimizu, M., Nose Y. (1984). Changes in the structure of coral reef fish communities by destruction of hermatypic corals: observational and experimental views. Pacif. Sci. 38: 51–79Google Scholar
  36. Sokal, R. R., Rohlf, F. J. (1981). Biometry. 2nd ed. The principles and practice of statistics in biological research. W. H. Freeman & Co., San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  37. Thresher, R. E. (1976). Field analysis of the territoriality of the threespot damselfish,Eupomacentrus planifrons (Pomacentridae). Copeia 1976: 266–276Google Scholar
  38. Thresher, R. E. (1983). Habitat effects on reproductive success in the coral reef fish,Acanthochromis polyacanthus (Pomacentridae). Ecology 64: 1184–1199Google Scholar
  39. Tsuda, R. T., Bryan, H. T. (1973). Food preference of juvenileSiganus rostratus andS. spinus in Guam. Copeia 1973: 604–606Google Scholar
  40. Victor, B. C. (1986). Larval settlement and juvenile mortality in a recruitment-limited coral reef-fish population. Ecol. Monogr. 56: 145–160Google Scholar
  41. Wanders, J. W. B. (1977). The role of benthic algae in the shallow reef of Curacao (Netherlands Antilles) III: The significance of grazing. Aquat. Bot. 3: 357–390Google Scholar
  42. Wellington, G. M., Victor, B. C. (1985). El Niño mass coral mortality: a test of resource limitation on a coral reef damselfish population. Oecologia 68: 15–19Google Scholar
  43. Williams, A. H. (1981). An analysis of competitive interactions in a patchy back reef environment. Ecology 62: 1107–1120Google Scholar
  44. Williams, D. McB. (1986). Temporal variation in the structure of reef slope fish communities (Central Great Barrier Reef): shortterm effects ofAcanthaster planci infestation. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 28: 157–164Google Scholar
  45. Zar, J. H. (1974). Biostatistical analysis. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New JerseyGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. R. Robertson
    • 1
  1. 1.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalbaoPanamá

Personalised recommendations