Herbivorous fishes, ecosystem function and mobile links on coral reefs

Welsh, J.Q., and Bellwood, D.R. (2014) Herbivorous fishes, ecosystem function and mobile links on coral reefs. Coral Reefs, 33 (2). pp. 303-311.

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Understanding large-scale movement of ecologically important taxa is key to both species and ecosystem management. Those species responsible for maintaining functional connectivity between habitats are often called mobile links and are regarded as essential elements of resilience. By providing connectivity, they support resilience across spatial scales. Most marine organisms, including fishes, have long-term, biogeographic-scale connectivity through larval movement. Although most reef species are highly site attached after larval settlement, some taxa may also be able to provide rapid, reef-scale connectivity as adults. On coral reefs, the identity of such taxa and the extent of their mobility are not yet known. We use acoustic telemetry to monitor the movements of Kyphosus vaigiensis, one of the few reef fishes that feeds on adult brown macroalgae. Unlike other benthic herbivorous fish species, it also exhibits large-scale (> 2 km) movements. Individual K. vaigiensis cover, on average, a 2.5 km length of reef (11 km maximum) each day. These large-scale movements suggest that this species may act as a mobile link, providing functional connectivity, should the need arise, and helping to support functional processes across habitats and spatial scales. An analysis of published studies of home ranges in reef fishes found a consistent relationship between home range size and body length. K. vaigiensis is the sole herbivore to depart significantly from the expected home range-body size relationship, with home range sizes more comparable to exceptionally mobile large pelagic predators rather than other reef herbivores. While the large-scale movements of K. vaigiensis reveal its potential capacity to enhance resilience over large areas, it also emphasizes the potential limitations of small marine reserves to protect some herbivore populations.

Item ID: 33895
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: home range, ecosystem function, coral reefs, functional connectivity, Kyphosus vaigiensis, cross-scale interactions
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2014 08:57
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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