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Keywords:

  • Bioerosion;
  • coral reefs;
  • grazing;
  • seaweeds

Abstract

Although bioerosion is among the most destructive forces on coral reefs, indirect effects influencing the bioerosion dynamics are understudied. Here, I assess the hypothesis that coral reef grazers indirectly facilitate proliferation of bioeroding sponges by removing epibiotic fleshy seaweeds from the Great Barrier Reef. This study quantifies the degree of spatial correlation between the distribution of bioeroding sponges and the distribution of grazing pressure, as evidenced by the abundance of seaweed and parrotfish bite marks. While the sponge tissue area was negatively correlated with seaweed coverage, the number of parrotfish bite marks was associated with less algae and more sponge tissue. Several factors derived from grazing on seaweeds may facilitate sponge growth: increases in the availability of light may favor primary production by symbiotic zooxanthellae and thereby increase growth of bioeroding sponges; on the other hand, sponge settlement may be facilitated on grazed substrates. All these factors are likely related, and contribute to an increasing erosion of coral reefs. Similar processes have recently been described in Mediterranean ecosystems, suggesting that the interactions I document here, could be widespread.