Spatial variation in abundance, size and orientation of juvenile corals related to the biomass of parrotfishes on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Trapon, Melanie L., Pratchett, Morgan S., and Hoey, Andrew S. (2013) Spatial variation in abundance, size and orientation of juvenile corals related to the biomass of parrotfishes on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. PLoS ONE, 8 (2). e57788. pp. 1-10.

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For species with complex life histories such as scleractinian corals, processes occurring early in life can greatly influence the number of individuals entering the adult population. A plethora of studies have examined settlement patterns of coral larvae, mostly on artificial substrata, and the composition of adult corals across multiple spatial and temporal scales. However, relatively few studies have examined the spatial distribution of small (≤50 mm diameter) sexually immature corals on natural reef substrata. We, therefore, quantified the variation in the abundance, composition and size of juvenile corals (≤50 mm diameter) among 27 sites, nine reefs, and three latitudes spanning over 1000 km on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Overall, 2801 juveniles were recorded with a mean density of 6.9 (±0.3 SE) ind.m⁻², with Acropora, Pocillopora, and Porites accounting for 84.1% of all juvenile corals surveyed. Size-class structure, orientation on the substrate and taxonomic composition of juvenile corals varied significantly among latitudinal sectors. The abundance of juvenile corals varied both within (6–13 ind.m⁻²) and among reefs (2.8–11.1 ind.m⁻²) but was fairly similar among latitudes (6.1–8.2 ind.m⁻²), despite marked latitudinal variation in larval supply and settlement rates previously found at this scale. Furthermore, the density of juvenile corals was negatively correlated with the biomass of scraping and excavating parrotfishes across all sites, revealing a potentially important role of parrotfishes in determining distribution patterns of juvenile corals on the Great Barrier Reef. While numerous studies have advocated the importance of parrotfishes for clearing space on the substrate to facilitate coral settlement, our results suggest that at high biomass they may have a detrimental effect on juvenile coral assemblages. There is, however, a clear need to directly quantify rates of mortality and growth of juvenile corals to understand the relative importance of these mechanisms in shaping juvenile, and consequently adult, coral assemblages.

Item ID: 26542
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1932-6203
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Date Deposited: 18 Apr 2013 23:34
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060207 Population Ecology @ 80%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0608 Zoology > 060808 Invertebrate Biology @ 20%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
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