Fifty million years of herbivory on coral reefs: fossils, fish and functional innovations

Bellwood, D.R., Goatley, C.H.R., Brandl, S.J., and Bellwood, O. (2014) Fifty million years of herbivory on coral reefs: fossils, fish and functional innovations. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences, 281. 20133046. pp. 1-8.

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Abstract

The evolution of ecological processes on coral reefs was examined based on Eocene fossil fishes from Monte Bolca, Italy and extant species from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Using ecologically relevant morphological metrics, we investigated the evolution of herbivory in surgeonfishes (Acanthuridae) and rabbitfishes (Siganidae). Eocene and Recent surgeonfishes showed remarkable similarities, with grazers, browsers and even specialized, long-snouted forms having Eocene analogues. These long-snouted Eocene species were probably pair-forming, crevice-feeding forms like their Recent counterparts. Although Eocene surgeonfishes likely played a critical role as herbivores during the origins of modern coral reefs, they lacked the novel morphologies seen in modern Acanthurus and Siganus (including eyes positioned high above their low-set mouths). Today, these forms dominate coral reefs in both abundance and species richness and are associated with feeding on shallow, exposed algal turfs. The radiation of these new forms, and their expansion into new habitats in the Oligocene-Miocene, reflects the second phase in the development of fish herbivory on coral reefs that is closely associated with the exploitation of highly productive short algal turfs.

Item ID: 32887
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1471-2954
Keywords: coral reef, herbivory, surgeonfish, Acanthuridae, evolution, ecological processes
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Date Deposited: 30 Apr 2014 09:47
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060206 Palaeoecology @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0603 Evolutionary Biology > 060303 Biological Adaptation @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
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