The removal of macroalgae by herbivores is fundamental to the long-term persistence of coral reefs. Variation in macroalgal browsing has been documented across a range of spatial scales on coral reefs; however, few studies have examined the factors that influence within-habitat rates of herbivory. The aim of the present study was to quantify herbivory on two species of Sargassum across three bays on an inshore island in the central Great Barrier Reef (GBR), and to determine whether these removal rates were related to the benthic composition or herbivorous fish communities. Removal rates of Sargassum differed significantly among bays, with removal rates in the southern bay (66.9–83.0% per 3 h) being approximately double that of the two other bays (29.2–38.5% per 3 h). The removal rates displayed a direct relationship with the benthic community structure, in particular the cover of macroalgae and live plate corals. Although it is difficult to determine whether these relationships are related to the availability of food resources or the structural complexity of the substratum, they highlight the potential influence of benthic composition on ecological processes. Quantifying and understanding the drivers of herbivory across a range of spatial scales is essential to the future management of coral reefs.
Marine & Freshwater Research – CSIRO Publishing
Published: Sep 23, 2010
Keywords: benthic composition, coral reefs, herbivory, macroalgal assay, resilience, spatial variation.
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