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Resource partitioning along multiple niche axes drives functional diversity in parrotfishes on Caribbean coral reefs

Abstract

The recent loss of key consumers to exploitation and habitat degradation has significantly altered community dynamics and ecosystem function across many ecosystems worldwide. Predicting the impacts of consumer losses requires knowing the level of functional diversity that exists within a consumer assemblage. In this study, we document functional diversity among nine species of parrotfishes on Caribbean coral reefs. Parrotfishes are key herbivores that facilitate the maintenance and recovery of coral-dominated reefs by controlling algae and provisioning space for the recruitment of corals. We observed large functional differences among two genera of parrotfishes that were driven by differences in diet. Fishes in the genus Scarus targeted filamentous algal turf assemblages, crustose coralline algae, and endolithic algae and avoided macroalgae, while fishes in the genus Sparisoma preferentially targeted macroalgae. However, species with similar diets were dissimilar in other attributes, including the habitats they frequented, the types of substrate they fed from, and the spatial scale at which they foraged. These differences indicate that species that appear to be functionally redundant when looking at diet alone exhibit high levels of complementarity when we consider multiple functional traits. By identifying key functional differences among parrotfishes, we provide critical information needed to manage parrotfishes to enhance the resilience of coral-dominated reefs and reverse phase shifts on algal-dominated reefs throughout the wider Caribbean. Further, our study provides a framework for predicting the impacts of consumer losses in other species rich ecosystems.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by a grant from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program to BIR and DEB and facilitated by grant number OCE-1130786 from the National Science Foundation to DEB and R. Vega Thurber. We thank Laura Catano for assistance with fieldwork and Andrew Hoey and one anonymous reviewer for comments that improved the manuscript. This work was conducted with permission from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit no. FKNMS-2013-058. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Author contribution statement

TCA designed the study with input from DEB and BIR. TCA and MK conducted field work. TCA developed methodology and performed analyses. TCA and DEB wrote the manuscript; BIR provided editorial advice.

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Correspondence to Thomas C. Adam.

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Communicated by Jeff Shima.

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Adam, T.C., Kelley, M., Ruttenberg, B.I. et al. Resource partitioning along multiple niche axes drives functional diversity in parrotfishes on Caribbean coral reefs. Oecologia 179, 1173–1185 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3406-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3406-3

Keywords

  • Biodiversity
  • Fishing
  • Functional group
  • Herbivory
  • Niche partitioning