Simulated macro-algal outbreak triggers a large-scale response on coral reefs

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Abstract

© 2015 Welsh, Bellwood. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Ecosystem degradation has become common throughout the world. On coral reefs, macroalgal outbreaks are one of the most widely documented signs of degradation. This study simulated local-scale degradation on a healthy coral reef to determine how resident taxa, with the potential to reverse algal outbreaks, respond. We utilized a combination of acoustic and video monitoring to quantify changes in the movements and densities, respectively, of coral reef herbivores following a simulated algal outbreak. We found an unprecedented accumulation of functionally important herbivorous taxa in response to algal increases. Herbivore densities increased by 267% where algae were present. The increase in herbivore densities was driven primarily by an accumulation of the browsing taxa Naso unicornis and Kyphosus vaigiensis, two species which are known to be important in removing macroalgae and which may be capable of reversing algal outbreaks. However, resident individuals at the site of algal increase exhibited no change in their movements. Instead, analysis of the size classes of the responding individuals indicates that large functionally-important non-resident individuals changed their movement patterns to move in and feed on the algae. This suggests that local-scale reef processes may not be sufficient to mitigate the effects of local degradation and highlights the importance of mobile links and cross-scale interactions.

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Welsh, J. Q., & Bellwood, D. R. (2015). Simulated macro-algal outbreak triggers a large-scale response on coral reefs. PLoS ONE, 10(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0132895

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