The distribution of the sea urchin Echinometra mathaei (de Blainville) and its predators on Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia: the implications for top-down control in an intact reef system

Johansson, C.L., Bellwood, D.R., Depczynski, M., and Hoey, A.S. (2013) The distribution of the sea urchin Echinometra mathaei (de Blainville) and its predators on Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia: the implications for top-down control in an intact reef system. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 442. pp. 39-46.

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Abstract

Fish predation is often cited as a key process in structuring sea urchin populations on coral reefs, with population outbreaks often being related to the removal of key predators through overfishing. However, moderate–high densities of the sea urchin Echinometra mathaei have been reported on a reef with relatively intact predator assemblages; Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. This study examined the relationship between the densities of E. mathaei and its potential predators, to gain some insight into the potential role of predation in structuring E. mathaei populations on Ningaloo Reef. To identify potential urchin predators we recorded predation events on tethered E. mathaei using stationary video cameras. Seven fish species preyed on the tethered urchins with two labrid species, Coris aygula and Choerodon rubescens, accounting for 65% of all observed predation events. There was, however, no evidence for the role of predation in determining E. mathaei populations either within or among habitats. Despite the densities of E. mathaei varying from 0.1 to 219.7 ind 100 m−2 among habitats, the density and biomass of potential urchin predators displayed limited variation among habitats. Furthermore, the density of E. mathaei was positively related to that of their predators on the reef slope and the back reef. While the overall density of potential predators (53.3 ind ha−1) was comparable to other protected reefs, the suite of predators differed from that of other regions. In particular, large triggerfish species (f. Balistidae), the dominant predators of E. mathaei on other Indo-Pacific reefs, were rare or absent. While the lack of these species may have contributed to the moderate–high densities of E. mathaei on Ningaloo Reef, other factors such as larval supply, food availability and habitat characteristics may be important. Irrespective of the mechanisms, moderate–high densities of E. mathaei should not be universally viewed as an indicator of reef degradation.

Item ID: 26866
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: Balistidae, coral reef, predation, sea urchins, tethering experiment, water flow
ISSN: 0022-0981
Funders: Western Australian Marine Science Institute (WAMSI), Australian Institute of Marine Science at James Cook University (AIMS@JCU), Australian Research Council (ARC)
Date Deposited: 10 May 2013 06:05
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0608 Zoology > 060801 Animal Behaviour @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 100%
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