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Predators selectively graze reproductive structures in a clonal marine organism
Rotjan, R.D.; Lewis, S.M. (2009). Predators selectively graze reproductive structures in a clonal marine organism. Mar. Biol. (Berl.) 156(4): 569-577.
In: Marine Biology. Springer: Heidelberg; Berlin. ISSN 0025-3162; e-ISSN 1432-1793, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Rotjan, R.D.
  • Lewis, S.M.

    Although the fitness consequences of herbivory on terrestrial plants have been extensively studied, considerably less is known about how partial predation impacts the fitness of clonal marine organisms. The trophic role of Caribbean parrotfish on coral reefs is complex: while these fish are important herbivores, as corallivores (consumers of live coral tissue), they selectively graze specific species and colonies of reef-building corals. Though the benefits of parrotfish herbivory for reef resilience and conservation are well documented, the negative consequences of parrotfish grazing for coral reproductive fitness have not been previously determined. We examined recently grazed colonies of Montastraea annularis corals to determine whether grazing was positively associated with coral reproductive effort. We measured gonad number, egg number and size, and proportional reproductive allocation for grazed and intact coral colonies 2–5 days prior to their annual spawning time. We found that parrotfish selectively grazed coral polyps with high total reproductive effort (number of gonads), providing the first evidence that parrotfish selectively target specific tissue areas within a single coral colony. The removal of polyps with high reproductive effort has direct adverse affects on coral fitness, with additional indirect implications for colony growth and survival. We conclude that chronic grazing by parrotfishes has negative fitness consequences for reef-building corals, and by extension, reef ecosystems.

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