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Investigating functional redundancy versus complementarity in Hawaiian herbivorous coral reef fishes

Our work demonstrates that individual species within a single herbivore community have different consumption patterns on a reef and are selecting for different types of available algae despite initial appearances of high functional redundancy. In situ observation combined with gut content analysis allowed us to differentiate within and between species’ bite rates and substrates bitten within a given reef context. Thus, we are able to quantify the “rain of bites” (Hamilton et al. 2014) across a reefscape, with resolution to macroalgae genera and turf algae functional form. This detailed view of the herbivore community helps to inform how individual herbivores influence benthic community structure based on community algal composition, although importantly, the ecological fate of these bites has different implications. Increasing functional complementarity with additional ecological metrics emphasizes the importance of diverse herbivore communities for reef ecosystem function.

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