Macroborer presence on corals increases with nutrient input and promotes parrotfish bioerosion

Abstract

Bioerosion by reef-dwelling organisms influences net carbonate budgets on reefs worldwide. External bioeroders, such as parrotfish and sea urchins, and internal bioeroders, including sponges and lithophagid bivalves, are major contributors to bioerosion on reefs. Despite their importance, few studies have examined how environmental (e.g., nutrients) or biological drivers (e.g., the actions of other bioeroders) may influence bioeroder dynamics on reefs. For example, internal bioeroders could promote external bioerosion by weakening the coral skeletal matrix. Our study investigated: (1) whether nutrient supply influences the dynamics between internal and external bioeroders and (2) how the presence of a boring bivalve, Lithophaga spp., influences parrotfish bioerosion on massive Porites corals. We hypothesized that nutrient supply would be positively correlated with Lithophaga densities on massive Porites colonies, and that as bivalve density increased, the frequency and intensity of parrotfish bioerosion would increase. To test these hypotheses, we analyzed six time points over a 10-yr period from a time series of benthic images and nitrogen content of a dominant macroalga from the fringing reefs around Moorea, French Polynesia. We found Lithophaga densities were positively correlated with nitrogen availability. Further, massive Porites that are more infested with Lithophaga had both a higher probability of being bitten by parrotfish and a higher density of bite scars from parrotfishes. Our findings indicate that increasing nutrient availability may strengthen the relationship between internal and external bioeroders, suggesting that colonies at more eutrophic sites may experience higher bioerosion rates.

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Acknowledgements

We are very grateful for the decade of work by Dr. Peter Edmunds in taking these annual benthic photoquadrats, which allowed this study to be possible. We are also grateful for the decade of CHN data and fish abundance data collected by Dr. Robert Carpenter and Dr. Andrew Brooks, respectively. We thank Daniel Baldwin for assistance with the collection of data in the field. This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation under Grant (OCE#16-37396) as well as a generous gift from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Research was completed under permits issued by the French Polynesian Government (Délégation à la Recherche) and the Haut-commissariat de la République en Polynésie Francaise (DTRT) (Protocole d’Accueil 2005-2018). Grants from the National Science Foundation (#1635798 to AMSC, #1547952 to DEB), NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to both MMR (#1650114) and RLM (#1314109-DGE), and the Worster Award to MMR supported this work. This work represents a contribution of the Moorea Coral Reef (MCR) LTER Site and is CSUN Marine Biology contribution #289. Data and code used in this paper are available on https://github.com/njsilbiger/MCRBioerosion.

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Rice, M.M., Maher, R.L., Correa, A.M.S. et al. Macroborer presence on corals increases with nutrient input and promotes parrotfish bioerosion. Coral Reefs 39, 409–418 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-020-01904-y

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Keywords

  • Bioerosion
  • Corallivory
  • Macroborer
  • Lithophaga
  • Eutrophication
  • Parrotfish