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Effects of herbivores, nutrient enrichment, and their interactions on macroalgal proliferation and coral growth

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Abstract

We conducted a 20-week manipulative field experiment on shallow forereefs of the Florida Keys to assess the separate and interactive effects of herbivory and nutrient enrichment on the development of macroalgal communities and the fitness of the corals Porites porites and Siderastrea siderea. Excluding large herbivorous fishes produced macrophyte blooms both with and without nutrient enrichment. In contrast, there were no direct effects of nutrient enrichment. There were, however, small, but significant, interactive effects of herbivory and enrichment on macroalgal cover. Following nutrient enrichment, total macroalgae and the common seaweeds Dictyota spp. were suppressed in the presence, but not in the absence, of large herbivorous fishes—suggesting that fishes were selectively feeding on nutrient-enriched macrophytes. Access by large herbivores prevented algal overgrowth of corals, but these large fishes also directly grazed both corals. Excluding fishes did not alter survivorship of either coral species, but did decrease parrotfish grazing scars on both corals and increased the net growth of P. porites. Nutrient additions had no direct effects on the survivorship of corals, but there was a trend (P = 0.097) for nutrients to stimulate the growth of P. porites. The preponderance of experiments available to date indicates that loss of key herbivores is a major factor driving macroalgal blooms on coral reefs; anthropogenic nutrient pollution generally plays a more minor role.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Teasley Endowment to Georgia Tech with supplemental support from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington National Undersea Research Center (to MEH) and NSF grant OCE-0550245 (to ES). We thank S. Bullard, G. Cetrulo, E.H. Hay, K. Hay, A. Hollebone, and C. Kicklighter for help with field work. This represents Grice Publication number 343.

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Correspondence to M. E. Hay.

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Communicated by Ecology Editor Prof. Peter Mumby

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Sotka, E.E., Hay, M.E. Effects of herbivores, nutrient enrichment, and their interactions on macroalgal proliferation and coral growth. Coral Reefs 28, 555–568 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-009-0529-1

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