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Trophic cascades result in large-scale coralline algae loss through differential grazer effects
O'Leary, J. K.; McClanahan, T. R. (2010). Trophic cascades result in large-scale coralline algae loss through differential grazer effects. Ecology 91(12): 3584-3597.
In: Ecology. Ecological Society of America: Brooklyn, NY. ISSN 0012-9658, more
Peer reviewed article  

Available in Authors 

Author keywords
    coral reef, coralline algae, echinoderms, ENSO, herbivorous fish, marine protected areas, marine reserves, red algae, trophic cascades

Authors  Top 
  • O'Leary, J. K.
  • McClanahan, T. R.

    Removal of predators can have strong indirect effects on primary producers through trophic cascades. Crustose coralline algae (CCA) are major primary producers worldwide that may be influenced by predator removal through changes in grazer composition and biomass. CCA have been most widely studied in Caribbean and temperate reefs, where cover increases with increasing grazer biomass due to removal of competitive fleshy algae. However, each of these systems has one dominant grazer type, herbivorous fishes or sea urchins, which may not be functionally equivalent. Where fishes and sea urchins co-occur, fishing can result in a phase shift in the grazing community with subsequent effects on CCA and other substrata. Kenyan reefs have herbivorous fishes and sea urchins, providing an opportunity to determine the relative impacts of each grazer type and evaluate potential human-induced trophic cascades. We hypothesized that fish benefit CCA, abundant sea urchins erode CCA, and that fishing indirectly reduces CCA cover by removing sea urchin predators. We used closures and fished reefs as a large-scale, long-term natural experiment to assess how fishing and resultant changes in communities affect CCA abundance. We used a short-term caging experiment to directly test the effects of grazing on CCA. CCA cover declined with increasing fish and sea urchin abundance, but the negative impact of sea urchin grazing was much stronger than that of fishes. Abundant sea urchins reduced the CCA growth rate to almost zero and prevented CCA accumulation. A warming event (El Nino Southern Oscillation, ENSO) occurred during the 18-year study and had a strong but short-term positive effect on CCA cover. However, the effect of the ENSO on CCA was lower in magnitude than the effect of sea urchin grazing. We compare our results with worldwide literature on bioerosion by fishes and sea urchins. Grazer influence depends on whether benefits of fleshy algae removal outweigh costs of grazer-induced bioerosion. However, the cost-benefit ratio for CCA appears to change with grazer type, grazer abundance, and environment. In Kenya, predator removal leads to a trophic cascade that is expected to reduce net calcification of reefs and therefore reduce reef stability, growth, and resilience.

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