Macroalgae removal on coral reefs: realised ecosystem functions transcend biogeographic locations

Tebbett, Sterling B., Hoey, Andrew S., Depczynski, Martial, Wismer, Sharon, and Bellwood, David R. (2020) Macroalgae removal on coral reefs: realised ecosystem functions transcend biogeographic locations. Coral Reefs, 39 (1). pp. 203-214.

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Coral reef ecosystems are at the forefront of biodiversity loss and climate change-mediated transformations. This is expected to have profound consequences for the functioning of these ecosystems. However, assessments of ecosystem function on reefs are often spatially limited, within biogeographic realms, or rely on presumed proxies such as traits. To address these shortcomings and assess the effects of biogeography and fish presence on the critical ecosystem function of macroalgal removal, we used assays of six algal genera across three reef habitats in two biogeographically distinct locations: Little Cayman in the Caribbean and Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Patterns of fish feeding and realised ecosystem function were strikingly similar between the two geographic locations, despite a threefold difference in the local diversity of nominally herbivorous fishes, a 2.4-fold difference in the diversity of fishes feeding and differences in the biogeographic history of the two locations. In both regions, a single species dominated the function: a surgeonfish, Naso unicornis, at the GBR location and, surprisingly, a triggerfish, Melichthys niger, at the Caribbean location. Both species, especially M. niger, were relatively rare, compared to other nominally herbivorous fishes, in censuses covering more than 14,000 m(2) at each location. Our study provides novel insights into the critical function of macroalgal removal in hyperdiverse coral reef ecosystems, highlighting: (a) that function can transcend biogeographic, taxonomic and historical constraints; and (b) shortcomings in our assumptions regarding fish presence and realised ecosystem function on coral reefs.

Item ID: 61237
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: Caribbean, ecosystem function, fish, functional redundancy, Great Barrier Reef, herbivory
Copyright Information: © Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC), Ian Potter Doctoral Fellowship at Lizard Island
Projects and Grants: ARC grant number CE140100020
Date Deposited: 18 Dec 2019 07:47
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410203 Ecosystem function @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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