Despite widespread acceptance of the negative effects of macroalgae on corals, very few studies have experimentally tested the competitive nature of the interaction, and most have ignored the potential effects of corals on algae. We report the effects of herbivory and competition on the growth of the branching scleractinian coral Porites cylindrica Dana and the creeping foliose brown alga Lobophora variegata (Lamouroux) Womersley, on an inshore fringing reef of the central Great Barrier Reef. L. variegata overgrows branches of P. cylindrica from the base up, forming a distinct boundary between the alga and the coral tissue. The experiment used exclusion cages to test for effects of herbivores, and removal of algae and coral tissue, at their interaction boundary, to test for inhibition of the competitors by each other. Comparisons of coral branches with the algae present or removed showed that the presence and overgrowth of the alga caused significant coral tissue mortality. Comparisons of branches with coral tissue unmanipulated or damaged showed that the coral inhibited the overgrowth by L. variegata , but that the algae were markedly superior competitors. Importantly, reduced herbivory resulted in faster algal growth and consequent overgrowth and mortality of coral tissue, demonstrating the critical importance of herbivory to the outcome of the competitive interaction.
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology – Elsevier
Published: May 10, 2002
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