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High biomass and productivity of epifaunal invertebrates living amongst dead coral


Fraser, KM and Stuart-Smith, RD and Ling, SD and Edgar, GJ, High biomass and productivity of epifaunal invertebrates living amongst dead coral, Marine Biology, 168 Article 102. ISSN 0025-3162 (2021) [Refereed Article]

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© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2021

DOI: doi:10.1007/s00227-021-03911-1


Climate change is transforming coral reef structures, with important yet largely unknown consequences for reef food webs. Crustaceans, molluscs, polychaetes, and other small motile invertebrates living as epifauna on coral habitats represent an essential trophic link between primary producers and a diverse and abundant invertivorous fish fauna. Here, we investigate variation in assemblages of motile epifaunal invertebrates on live coral and dead coral heavily overgrown by turf algae. Sampling was conducted 2–3 years following mass bleaching within the study region at four locations broadly spanning the distribution of corals on the eastern seaboard of Australia—along the northern and central Great Barrier Reef, and, adjacent to the central east coast, the Solitary Islands and offshore Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs (> 2000 km total distance). Epifaunal assemblages differed significantly between live and dead ‘turf-covered’ coral habitats, with overall density, biomass, and productivity of epifauna more than an order of magnitude greater on dead than on live coral. The size structure and composition of assemblages also differed: turf-covered dead coral supported greater abundances of small animals than live coral, notably harpacticoid copepods, while live coral assemblages had proportionally greater abundances of larger decapods. A ten-fold increase in secondary productivity of motile invertebrates is predicted as live corals are replaced by turf-covered dead coral, however, this productivity will predominantly be available as small harpacticoid copepod prey (size range: 0.125–0.25 mm). Associated flow-on effects through reef food webs are likely, as changes to epifauna will directly affect invertivore communities, which in turn potentially influence larger carnivores and other functional groups.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:macrofauna, epifauna, benthic ecosystems, trophic ecology, community ecology, coral reefs, climate change
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Marine systems and management
Objective Field:Marine biodiversity
UTAS Author:Fraser, KM (Miss Kate Fraser)
UTAS Author:Stuart-Smith, RD (Dr Rick Stuart-Smith)
UTAS Author:Ling, SD (Dr Scott Ling)
UTAS Author:Edgar, GJ (Professor Graham Edgar)
ID Code:144913
Year Published:2021
Web of Science® Times Cited:4
Deposited By:Sustainable Marine Research Collaboration
Deposited On:2021-06-21
Last Modified:2021-11-08
Downloads:6 View Download Statistics

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