Algal assemblages associated with Stegastes sp. territories on Indo-Pacific coral reefs: Characterization of diversity and controls on growth
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Herbivorous fish occupy an important niche in coral reef ecosystems. Specifically, damselfish of the genus Stegastes have been shown to have a significant impact on coral community structure and algal assemblages. This study investigated the algal communities associated with Stegastes territories of the Indo-Pacific (Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Tonga), while concurrently examining the effects of nutrient enrichment and herbivore exclusion (alone and in unison) on these communities. Results evidenced differences in species composition, percent c over, and algal growth rate between Stegastes territories and non-Stegastes sites and between control sites and treatment sites. Stegastes territories consistently displayed a greater abundance of turf algae than non-Stegastes sites; the two main genera of turf algae observed at all sites were Polysiphonia and Ceramium. Although non-Stegastes sites in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and Tonga showed a greater percent coverage of macroalgae, they contained fewer algal species compared to Stegastes territories. In Fiji, red macroalgae decreased in the herbivore exclusion treatments, while brown macroalgae increased significantly in the herbivore exclusion and nutrient treatments. The combined effect of the herbivore exclusion and nutrient treatment at this location yielded a significantly increased turf algae growth rate compared to control sites. Growth rates of turf algae in the Solomon Islands and Tonga increased significantly in caged treatments, suggesting that damselfish of the genus Stegastes can play an important role in maintaining cropped algal beds. In summation, the results demonstrated that Stegastes sustains distinct algal assemblages which may be disrupted by reduced grazing and/or eutrophication.
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology