Clarifying functional roles: algal removal by the surgeonfishes Ctenochaetus striatus and Acanthurus nigrofuscus

Tebbett, Sterling B., Goatley, Christopher H.R., and Bellwood, David R. (2017) Clarifying functional roles: algal removal by the surgeonfishes Ctenochaetus striatus and Acanthurus nigrofuscus. Coral Reefs, 36 (3). pp. 803-813.

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The lined bristletooth, Ctenochaetus striatus, and the brown surgeonfish, Acanthurus nigrofuscus, are among the most abundant surgeonfishes on Indo-Pacific coral reefs. Yet, the functional role of these species has been the focus of an ongoing debate lasting at least six decades. Specifically, to what extent are C. striatus herbivorous like the visually similar A. nigrofuscus? To address this question, we used natural feeding surfaces, covered with late successional stage reef-grown algal turfs, to examine turf algal removal by the two species. Surfaces exposed to C. striatus in laboratory experiments exhibited no significant reductions in turf length or area covered by turfing algae. In marked contrast, A. nigrofuscus reduced turf length by 51% and area covered by turfing algae by 15% in 1 h. The gut contents of specimens from the reef revealed that A. nigrofuscus predominantly ingests algae (the dominant item in 79.6-94.7% of gut content quadrats), while C. striatus ingests detritus and sediments (dominant in 99.6-100% of quadrats). Therefore, C. striatus ingests detritus and sediment, leaving mature algal turfs relatively intact, while A. nigrofuscus directly removes and ingests turf algae. The function of C. striatus differs from cropping herbivorous surgeonfishes such as A. nigrofuscus. On coral reefs, C. striatus brush detrital aggregates from algal turfs, removing microorganisms, organic detritus and inorganic sediment. Confusion over the functional role of C. striatus may stem from an inability to fit it into a single functional category.

Item ID: 50382
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: coral reef, herbivory, detritivory, epilithic algal matrix, algal turfs
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Date Deposited: 20 Sep 2017 08:24
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960802 Coastal and Estuarine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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