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PLoS One 2013 Jan 01;89:e72830. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072830.
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Ecological complexity of coral recruitment processes: effects of invertebrate herbivores on coral recruitment and growth depends upon substratum properties and coral species.

Davies SW , Matz MV , Vize PD .

BACKGROUND: The transition from planktonic planula to sessile adult corals occurs at low frequencies and post settlement mortality is extremely high. Herbivores promote settlement by reducing algal competition. This study investigates whether invertebrate herbivory might be modulated by other ecological factors such as substrata variations and coral species identity. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: The experiment was conducted at the Flower Garden Banks, one of the few Atlantic reefs not experiencing considerable degradation. Tiles of differing texture and orientation were kept in bins surrounded by reef (24 m). Controls contained no herbivores while treatment bins contained urchins (Diadema antillarum) or herbivorous gastropods (Cerithium litteratum). Juvenile corals settling naturally were monitored by photography for 14 months to evaluate the effects of invertebrate herbivory and substratum properties. Herbivory reduced algae cover in urchin treatments. Two genera of brooding coral juveniles were observed, Agaricia and Porites, both of which are common but not dominant on adjacent reef. No broadcast spawning corals were observed on tiles. Overall, juveniles were more abundant in urchin treatments and on vertical, rough textured surfaces. Although more abundant, Agaricia juveniles were smaller in urchin treatments, presumably due to destructive overgrazing. Still, Agaricia growth increased with herbivory and substrata texture-orientation interactions were observed with reduced growth on rough tiles in control treatments and increased growth on vertical tiles in herbivore treatments. In contrast to Agaricia, Porites juveniles were larger on horizontal tiles, irrespective of herbivore treatment. Mortality was affected by substrata orientation with vertical surfaces increasing coral survival. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: We further substantiate that invertebrate herbivores play major roles in early settlement processes of corals and highlight the need for deeper understanding of ecological interactions modulating these effects. The absence of broadcast-spawning corals, even on a reef with consistently high coral cover, continues to expose the recruitment failure of these reef-building corals throughout the Caribbean.

PubMed ID: 24039807
PMC ID: PMC3767691
Article link: PLoS One

Genes referenced: LOC105444658

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References [+] :
Barott, Hyperspectral and physiological analyses of coral-algal interactions. 2009, Pubmed