Turbinaria ornata as an herbivory refuge for associate algae

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Habitat associations are an integral part of coral reef community structure. Commonly, one organism lives in such close association within or near another that a spatial refuge occurs, whereby one of the organisms provides protection to the other. This is often the result of defenses of the host deterring an associate organism’s consumers. In Moorea, French Polynesia, the range and abundance of the brown macroalga, Turbinaria ornata, have increased drastically since 1980 such that dense aggregations of this macroalga are a dominant component of the backreef habitat. Turbinaria ornata is both mechanically and chemically defended from herbivores. Other species of macroalgae grow within aggregations of Turbinaria and may beneWt from these defenses. This study investigates whether aggregations of Turbinaria create a refuge from herbivory for associate macroalgae. When Turbinaria aggregations were removed experimentally, there was a significant increase in the number of associate algal species. Moreover, an herbivory assay using the palatable local alga Acanthophora spicifera identiWed herbivory as the mechanism for lower diversity on bommies lacking Turbinaria aggregations. The local increase in algal richness due to the refuge from herbivory aVorded by Turbinaria may be an important contribution to macroalgal and community dynamics on reefs in Moorea, French Polynesia.


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Bittick, S.J., Bilotti, N.D., Peterson, H.A. et al. Turbinaria ornata as an herbivory refuge for associate algae. Mar Biol 157, 317–323 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-009-1319-6