The influence of fire-coral colony size and agonistic behaviour of territorial damselfish on associated coral reef fish communities

Silva Leal, Isabela Carolina, de Araújo, Maria Elisabeth, da Cunha, Simone Rabelo, and Cipresso Pereira, Pedro Henrique (2015) The influence of fire-coral colony size and agonistic behaviour of territorial damselfish on associated coral reef fish communities. Marine Environmental Research, 108. pp. 45-54.

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Branching hydrocorals from the genus Millepora play an important ecological role in South Atlantic reefs, where branching scleractinian corals are absent. Previous studies have shown a high proportion of reef fish species using branching fire-coral colonies as shelter, breeding, and feeding sites. However, the effects of Millepora spp. colony size and how the agonistic behaviour of a competitive damselfish affect the associated reef fish community are still unknown. The present study examined how fire-coral colony volume and the presence of a highly territorial and aggressive damselfish (Brazilian endemic Stegastes fuscus) affects the reef fish community associated with the fire-coral Millepora alcicornis. M. alcicornis colonies were surveyed from September 2012 to April 2013 at Tamandaré Reefs off Northeast Brazil. Our results show that the abundance and richness of coral associated fish was positively correlated with M. alcicornis coral colony volume. Additionally, behaviour of S. fuscus, the most abundant reef fish species found associated with fire-coral colonies (almost 57% of the fish community), was also influenced by fire-coral colony volume. There was a clear trend of increased agonistic behaviour and feeding on coral polyps as colony volume increased. This trend was reversed for the non-occupational swimming category, which decreased as M. alcicornis colony volume increased. Behavioural ontogenetic changes were also detected for S. fuscus individuals. Juveniles mainly showed two distinct behaviours: sheltered on coral branches and feeding on coral polyps. In contrast, adults presented greater equitability among the behavioural categories, mostly non-occupational swimming around coral colonies and agonistic behaviour. Lastly, S. fuscus individuals actively defended fire-coral colonies from intruders. A large number of agonistic interactions occurred against potential food competitors, which were mainly roving herbivores, omnivores, and sessile invertebrate feeders. To our knowledge, the present study provides the first evidence that through habitat competition, the presence of S. fuscus may affect reef fish communities associated with M. alcicornis coral colonies. Our findings also indicate that S. fuscus uses M. alcicornis coral colonies as part of their territory for shelter and foraging. In conclusion, M. alcicornis fire-coral colonies are extremely important habitats for reef fishes and the size and presence of a territorial damselfish are relevant variables for associated reef fish community.

Item ID: 41775
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1879-0291
Keywords: habitat complexity, coral-fish association, competition, Millepora alcicornis, Stegastes fuscus, South Atlantic reefs
Funders: Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior, Brazil (CAPES), Pesquisas Ecológicas de Longa Duração (PELD), Rufford Small Grants (RSG) , IDEA WILD
Date Deposited: 08 Dec 2015 14:48
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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