Epifaunal invertebrate assemblages associated with branching Pocilloporids in Moorea, French Polynesia.


Pisapia, C.,Stella, J.,Silbiger, N. J., andCarpenter, R. C.




Reef-building corals can harbour high abundances of diverse invertebrate epifauna. Coral characteristics and environmental conditions are important drivers of community structure of coral-associated invertebrates; however, our current understanding of drivers of epifaunal distributions is still unclear. This study tests the relative importance of the physical environment (current flow speed) and host quality (e.g., colony height, surface area, distance between branches, penetration depth among branches, and background partial mortality) in structuring epifaunal communities living within branching Pocillopora colonies on a back reef in Moorea, French Polynesia. A total of 470 individuals belonging to four phyla, 16 families and 39 genera were extracted from 36 Pocillopora spp. colonies. Decapods were the most abundant epifaunal organisms (accounting for 84% of individuals) found living in Pocillopora spp. While coral host characteristics and flow regime are very important, these parameters were not correlated with epifaunal assemblages at the time of the study. Epifaunal assemblages associated with Pocillopora spp. were consistent and minimally affected by differences in host characteristics and flow regime. The consistency in abundance and taxon richness among colonies (regardless of habitat characteristics) highlighted the importance of total habitat availability. With escalating effects of climate change and other localized disturbances, it is critical to preserve branching corals to support epifaunal communities.





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Journal Article

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