Competitive interactions between corals and benthic algae are increasingly frequent on degrading coral reefs, but the processes and mechanisms surrounding the interactions, as well as the exacerbating effects of sediments trapped in turf algae, are poorly described. We surveyed the frequency, proportion, and outcomes of interactions between benthic algae (turf algae and macroalgae) and 631 corals (genera: Porites, Favites, Favia, Platygyra, and Pavona) on a degenerating reef in the northern South China Sea, with a specific focus on the negative effects of algal contact on corals. Our data indicated that turf algae were the main algal competitors for each surveyed coral genus and the proportion of algal contact along the coral edges varied significantly among the coral genera and the algal types. The proportions of algal wins between corals and turf algae or macroalgae differed significantly among coral genera. Compared to macroalgae, turf algae consistently yielded more algal wins and fewer coral wins on all coral genera. Amongst the coral genera, Porites was the most easily damaged by algal competition. The proportions of turf algal wins on the coral genera increased 1.1-1.9 times in the presence of sediments. Furthermore, the proportions of algal wins on massive and encrusting corals significantly increased with the combination of sediments and turf algae as the algal type. However, the variation in proportions of algal wins between massive and encrusting corals disappeared as sediments became trapped in turf algae. Sediments bound within turf algae further induced damage to corals and reduced the competitive advantage of the different coral growth forms in their competitive interactions with adjacent turf algae.
Liao, Z., Yu, K., Wang, Y., Huang, X., & Xu, L. (2019). Coral-algal interactions at Weizhou Island in the northern South China Sea: Variations by taxa and the exacerbating impact of sediments trapped in turf algae. PeerJ, 2019(3). https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.6590