Between-habitat differences in herbivore impact on Caribbean coral reefs
Hay, Mark E.
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Transplanted sections of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum were used as a bioassay to assess between-habitat differences in herbivory on three Caribbean reefs. Consumption of Thalassia by herbivorous fishes on shallow (1-10 m) reef slopes was significantly higher than on deep (30-40 m) reef slopes or on shallow reef flats. Seaweeds typical of reef flat habitats were rapidly consumed when placed on shallow reef slopes. Seaweeds typical of either deep or shallow reef slopes were relatively resistant to herbivory and a high proportion of these species are known to contain secondary chemical compounds that appear to deter herbivorous fishes. Shallow reef flats provide seaweeds with a predictable spatial escape from major reef herbivores; algae characteristic of these habitats have evolved few, if any, characteristics that significantly reduce losses to herbivory.