A functional perspective on the meaning of the term ‘herbivore’: patterns versus processes in coral reef fishes

Tebbett, Sterling B., Bennett, Scott, and Bellwood, David R. (2024) A functional perspective on the meaning of the term ‘herbivore’: patterns versus processes in coral reef fishes. Coral Reefs, 43. pp. 219-232.

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Herbivorous fishes are a key functional group in coral reef ecosystems and have been the focus of a vast body of research. While substantial progress has been made in research, challenges persist, especially in respect to quantifying patterns versus processes. Despite this challenge being recognised over 40 years ago. To help clarify such challenges, and work towards solutions, in this perspective we explore how the definition of ‘herbivorous reef fishes’ precludes an easy translation between patterns of herbivore abundance and the process of herbivory. Indeed, if herbivorous fishes are defined as, a fish in which the diet is predominantly based on plant material, then this encompasses a diverse suite of fishes which all remove primary producers to varying extents and have markedly different impacts on reef functioning. Given this situation, we explore how our approaches to directly quantifying herbivory on reefs have progressed. We highlight how lessons learnt from macroalgal assays could be applied to the direct quantification of herbivory from algal turfs in the epilithic algal matrix (EAM); a community of primary producers that are invariably difficult to work with and quantify. Nevertheless, given the abundance of turfs on coral reefs, and their relative importance in herbivore dynamics, widespread process-based assessment of EAM herbivory represents an avenue for expanding future research. Recognising the difficulty of translating patterns in herbivore abundance to the process of herbivory, and an enhanced focus on EAM herbivory, will be necessary to comprehensively quantify the process of herbivory on Anthropocene coral reefs.

Item ID: 78477
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: Algal turf, Ecosystem function, Epilithic algal matrix, Macroalgae, Parrotfish, Surgeonfish
Copyright Information: © The Author(s) 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC FL190100062, ARC DE200100900
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2023 00:26
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 100%
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