Changing impacts of herbivorous fishes through time

A terminal phase (adult male) bullethead parrotfish (Chlorurus spilurus) taking a bite of turf algae on the reef in Mo’orea, French Polynesia. Image: Katrina Munsterman
A terminal phase (adult male) bullethead parrotfish (Chlorurus spilurus) taking a bite of turf algae on the reef in Mo’orea, French Polynesia. Image: Katrina Munsterman
A terminal phase (adult male) bullethead parrotfish (Chlorurus spilurus) taking a bite of turf algae on the reef in Mo’orea, French Polynesia. Image: Katrina Munsterman

From reefbites, with permission

by Matthew Tietbohl

Animals are well-known to be important ecosystem engineers, impacting their habitats in a number of different ways. Some predators may create landscapes of fear where herbivores avoid, resulting in mosaics of different plant communities across a habitat. Other terrestrial herbivores, like elephants can impact their environments by destroying trees and promote the growth of other vegetation in forests. The same is true of fish on coral reefs. Their feeding activity can impact animal species or algae they eat (top-down effects) and their waste products can fuel the growth of microbes or algae (bottom-up effects). However, these two different types of impacts are seldom studied in tandem. 

A new study by Katrina Munsterman et al. (2021) looked at both top-down and bottom-up effects in herbivorous fish communities on backreefs in Moorea in the tropical Pacific Ocean. 

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Katrina processing a terminal phase (adult male) bullethead parrotfish (Chlorurus spilurus) at the Gump Research Station in Mo’orea, French Polynesia. Image: Katrina Munsterman