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Effects of territorial damselfish on cryptic bioeroding organisms on dead Acropora formosa.

Journal article
Authors H Strömberg
Charlotta Kvarnemo
Published in Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Volume 327
Issue 1
Pages 91-102
ISSN 0022-0981
Publication year 2005
Published at Department of Zoology, Animal Ecology
Pages 91-102
Language en
Keywords Acropora formosa, Bioeroding organisms, Coral reef, Damselfish
Subject categories Biological Sciences, Ecology


Many damselfishes exclude other grazers from their territories and “farm” filamentous algae within their territories. In this study the indirect effect of damselfish territories on faunal composition and abundance of internal bioeroders of dead Acropora formosa (Dana, 1846) was investigated in territories of two damselfish species, Stegastes nigricans (Lacepède, 1802) and Plectroglyphidodon lacrymatus (Quoy and Gaimard, 1825). S. nigricans tends to be more protective and defend their territories more aggressively than P. lacrymatus. Newly killed branches of A. formosa were placed inside and outside damselfish territories, for 1 or 2 years, at a coral reef near Zanzibar, Tanzania. As predicted, the coral branches became covered with more filamentous algae in the S. nigricans territories than in the controls, with intermediate levels in the P. lacrymatus territories. Among the internal bioeroding fauna, polychaetes were by far the most common group. In total, there were significantly more borers in the first year than the second, which was mainly due to a high abundance of sabellids. Furthermore, sabellids were significantly more abundant in control areas and in the P. lacrymatus territories compared to the S. nigricans territories. However, many other genera showed the opposite pattern, with more polychaetes in the fish territories compared to the controls. There was also a clear difference in assemblage structure between S. nigricans territories and controls. Thus, we found strong effects of whether a piece of coral was placed inside or outside a damselfish territory on the abundance of many of the bioeroding taxa. We discuss multiple reasons for these indirect effects of the territories, including that deposit feeding bioeroders may benefit from the dense algal turf found inside the territories whereas suspension feeding bioeroders may benefit from substrate with less filamentous algae found outside territories. Considering our results in the context of the large areas of coral reefs that typically are defended as territories by damselfishes, these fish are likely to have a considerable impact on the boring community of a coral reef.

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