Quantifying patterns of fish herbivory on Palmyra Atoll (USA), an uninhabited predator-dominated central Pacific coral reef

TitleQuantifying patterns of fish herbivory on Palmyra Atoll (USA), an uninhabited predator-dominated central Pacific coral reef
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsHamilton S.L, Smith JE, Price N.N, Sandin SA
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Date Published2014/03
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0171-8630
Accession NumberWOS:000333958800011
Keywordsacanthurus-nigrofuscus; Behavioral foraging observations; bioerosion; Bite rates; ctenochaetus-striatus; Defecation rates; functional-analysis; Grazing; great-barrier-reef; impacts; indian-ocean; Macroalgae; Parrotfish; resilience; response diversity; Surgeonfish; trophic cascades

On many coral reefs, herbivorous fish play an essential role in regulating algal growth and influencing the outcome of coral-algal competition. Working on a remote predator-dominated coral reef on Palmyra Atoll, USA, we used behavioral foraging observations to quantify the roles of common parrotfish and surgeonfish in the roving herbivore guild. We recorded species-specific bite rates on different benthic organisms, quantified the relative abundance of those benthic organisms, and estimated benthos-specific grazing intensities as a function of bite rates, fish abundance, and percent cover. These grazing metrics were compared between the exposed fore reef (similar to 10 m depth) and protected reef terrace (similar to 5 m depth) habitats. We observed large differences in feeding rates and substrate selectivity among fish species. Most species fed predominately on algal turfs; however, some species foraged broadly among fleshy macroalgal taxa, while others specialized on calcified green algae of the genus Halimeda. The highest bite rates were recorded from species targeting algal turfs, while the highest rates of defecation were recorded from species targeting Halimeda. Per capita bite rates of all species were higher in the fore reef habitat (mean 45% more bites min(-1)); however, overall grazing intensities on turf algae (bites cm(-2) d(-1)) were 5 times higher on the reef terrace than on the fore reef. Despite habitat-specific differences in the herbivore assemblages, the estimated distribution of total bites showed consistency among habitats, with strong guild-level positive foraging selectivity for algal turf. Comparisons of bite and defecation rate data for these herbivores across the Indo-Pacific highlight phylogenetic constraints on grazing activities. Overall, this study illustrates the importance of herbivore functional redundancy, variability in species-specific grazing, and provides a framework for assessing guild-wide grazing impacts on coral reefs.

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