Coupled dynamics of territorial damselfishes and juvenile corals on the reef crest

Casey, J.M., Choat, J.H., and Connolly, S.R. (2015) Coupled dynamics of territorial damselfishes and juvenile corals on the reef crest. Coral Reefs, 34. pp. 1-11.

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Abstract

Territories of grazing fishes in the family Pomacentridae have been documented to cover a sub- stantial proportion of shallow, exposed coral reef fronts, and these fishes can have profound effects on benthic community composition, including the recruitment and post-settlement survival of scleractinian corals. However, current studies of territorial grazer effects on corals have focused on back-reef habitats. Territorial damselfishes occur in distinct behavioural guilds ranging from indeter- minate territorial grazers with thin algal turfs and low rates of territorial aggression to intensive territorial grazers with thick turfs and high rates of aggression. To determine the impact of territorial grazers on the establishment of juve- nile corals, we surveyed the reef crest habitat of Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, using fixed transects to assess the effects of indeterminate and intensive territorial grazers on juvenile coral abundance and taxonomic composition. In addition, the turnover of territorial pomacentrids was monitored as well as the effects of turnover on juvenile coral assemblages. Intensive territorial grazers were asso- ciated with a significantly lower juvenile coral abundance (34 % decrease), but neither intensive nor indeterminate grazer territories impacted juvenile coral taxonomic com- position. Over the course of 1 yr, there was a high rate of territorial turnover (39.7 %). Turnover from control plots to intensive damselfish territories was accompanied by a 44 % decrease in juvenile corals; conversely, turnover from intensive damselfish territories to control plots coin- cided with a 48 % increase in juvenile corals. These find- ings reveal two main conclusions. Firstly, the association between damselfish territories and the abundance and spatial turnover of juvenile corals strongly implies that territorial grazers have a negative effect on juvenile coral populations. Secondly, the unexpectedly high temporal turnover of damselfish territories indicates that damselfish– coral–algae linkages are highly dynamic, may be exten- sively influenced by local-scale effects, and have the potential to impact the structure of coral assemblages on coral reef fronts.

Item ID: 42095
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Date Deposited: 09 Feb 2016 01:17
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060202 Community Ecology (excl Invasive Species Ecology) @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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