Microtopographic refuges shape consumer‑producer dynamics by mediating consumer functional diversity

Brandl, Simon J., and Bellwood, David R. (2016) Microtopographic refuges shape consumer‑producer dynamics by mediating consumer functional diversity. Oecologia, 182 (1). pp. 203-217.

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Consumer-producer dynamics are critical for ecosystem functioning. In marine environments, primary production is often subject to strong consumer control, and on coral reefs, the grazing pressure exerted by herbivorous fishes has been identified as a major determinant of benthic community structure. Using experimental surfaces, we demonstrate that on coral reefs, microtopographic refuges decrease the overall grazing pressure by more than one order of magnitude. Furthermore, by functionally characterizing consumer communities, we show that refuges also restrict grazer communities to only one functional group, algal croppers, which selectively remove the apical parts of algae. In contrast, detritivorous fishes, which intensively graze flat and exposed microhabitats and can remove both particulate matter and entire stands of algal filaments, are almost entirely excluded. This preclusion of an entire ecosystem process (the removal of particulates) results in two distinct coexisting benthic regimes: communities within refuges are diverse and characterized by numerous algal types and juvenile scleractinian corals, while communities outside refuges support only low-diversity assemblages dominated by simple, unbranched filamentous turf algal mats. Although limited to the scale of a few centimeters, microtopographic refuges can, therefore, mediate the biotic control of community development by affecting both overall grazing rates and the functional diversity of consumer communities. We suggest that the coexistence of two distinct benthic regimes at a small spatial scale may be an important factor for ecosystem functioning and highlight the need to consider the ecological complexity of consumer-producer dynamics when assessing the status of coral reef ecosystems.

Item ID: 45400
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-1939
Keywords: turf algae, reef resilience, herbivory, phase shift, rugosity
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Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC), Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF)
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2016 06:16
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410203 Ecosystem function @ 33%
31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 34%
31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310302 Community ecology (excl. invasive species ecology) @ 33%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960503 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Coastal and Estuarine Environments @ 33%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 33%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 34%
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