When large, predatory fishes and invertebrates were excluded from areas of a coral reef in the Florida Keys, USA, densities of the normally rare gastropod Cyphoma gibbosum, a principal predator of gorgonian corals, increased 19-fold. Gorgonians in predator exclosures were grazed more frequently and extensively by C. gibbosum than were gorgonians in uncaged areas. In exclosures, 14% of all gorgonians showed recent predation by C. gibbosum, with 62% of the entire colony surface being removed from these attacked individuals. In areas where predators of C. gibbosum were not excluded, only 5% of gorgonians exhibited recent damage, with only 26% of the colony surface being removed from these few damaged individuals. Thus, the increases in both frequency and extent of attack combined to produce an 8× increase in gorgonian damage following removal of large predators. These patterns suggest that predators typically suppress C. gibbosum populations, that overfishing of these predators could release C. gibbosum from top-down control, and that this release will allow increased damage to gorgonian corals.
Oecologia – Springer Journals
Published: Jul 17, 2007
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