An outbreak of sea cucumbers hinders coral recruitment

Abstract

An outbreak of a small sessile sea cucumber, Ocnus sanya, occurred on the degraded Luhuitou coral reef in Sanya Bay, Hainan, China. This study explored the pattern of distribution of O. sanya on the reef and the impacts of the high abundance of O. sanya on post-settlement mortality of Pocillopora damicornis recruits. The density of O. sanya ranged from about 500 to over 2000 individuals m−2 with 10.95–23.69% cover on hard substrate. Terracotta tiles with O. sanya on the surface accumulated 19.7% more surface sediment than those without sea cucumbers. Post-settlement P. damicornis recruits had significantly higher mortality on terracotta tiles with O. sanya than those without O. sanya after 21 d. Overall, O. sanya appears to increase sediment stress and inhibit coral recruitment, exacerbating the degradation of Luhuitou Reef. This study raises the possibility that such novel outbreak species could contribute significant additional stress on coral reefs at larger scales.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA13020201), the National Nature Science Foundation of China (41676150 and 31370499), Science and Technology Service Network Initiative (KFJ-EW-STS-123), Science and technology Planning Project of Guangdong Province, China (2014B030301064). L. J. McCook was supported by a President’s International Visiting Expert Professorial Fellowship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2016VEA025). We are grateful to reviewers for their valuable and constructive comments that vastly improved the manuscript. On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Hui Huang.

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Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Mark R. Patterson

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Zhang, Y., McCook, L., Jiang, L. et al. An outbreak of sea cucumbers hinders coral recruitment. Coral Reefs 37, 321–326 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-017-1654-x

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Keywords

  • Sea cucumber outbreak
  • Ocnus sanya
  • Pocillopora damicornis
  • Coral recruitment
  • Luhuitou Reef China
  • Coral reef degradation