Herbivory & coral recruitment

Exploring how large fishes that feed on algae and corals influence coral establishment, survival, and overall reef resilience by modifying the seafloor as they feed.

Large reef fish that eat animals and plants on the seafloor, particularly large parrotfish, feed in mechanically powerful ways – often excavating sizable divots in reef surfaces. The rain of bites delivered by this group of fish increases the complexity of reefs by creating tiny concavities on reef surfaces. Our research aims to understand whether the bite scars from these large fish offer a relatively safe space where juvenile corals can settle and begin to grow. We are examining the importance of this novel route through which large herbivorous and coral-feeding fishes may benefit corals and influence reef resilience using artificial recruitment tiles that contain mock parrotfish bite scars. Over the course of this project, we will measure coral recruitment to areas on these tiles with and without bite scars, and monitor overall patterns of coral survival and growth. Insight from these experiments will help inform RTI models aimed at describing the role that often vulnerable large benthic-feeding fish may play in maintaining reef resilience. This research is being lead by Dr. Fiorenza Micheli (Stanford University) and Dr. Douglas McCauley (University of California, Santa Barbara) but collaboratively links in important ways to the work of many research groups in the Reefs Tomorrow Initiative.