Grazing pressure of herbivorous coral reef fishes on low coral-cover reefs

Michelle J. Paddack, Robert K. Cowen, Su Sponaugle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


The impact of grazing by herbivorous fishes (Acanthuridae, Scaridae, and Pomacentridae) on low coral-cover reefs was assessed by measuring rates of benthic algal production and consumption on inshore and offshore reefs in the upper Florida Keys. Algal production rates, determined in situ with caged and uncaged experimental plates, were low (mean 1.05 g C m-2 day -1) and similar among reef types. Algal consumption rates were estimated using two different models, a detailed model incorporating fish bite rates and algal yield-per-bite for one species extrapolated to a guild-wide value, and a general regression relating fish biomass to algal consumption. Algal consumption differed among reef types: a majority of algal production was consumed on offshore reefs (55-100%), whereas consumption on inshore patch reefs was 31-51%. Spatial variation in algal consumption was driven by differences in herbivorous fish species composition, density, and size-structure among reef types. Algal consumption rates also varied temporally due to seasonal declines in bite rates and intermittent presence of large-bodied, vagile, schooling species. Spatial coherence of benthic community structure and temporal stability of algal turf over 3 years suggests that grazing intensity is currently sufficient to limit further spread of macroalgal cover on these low coral-cover reefs, but not to exclude it from the system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-472
Number of pages12
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2006


  • Algal consumption
  • Algal production
  • Coral reef
  • Herbivory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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