The effects of damselfish on coral reef benthic composition

Damselfish have a considerable effect on benthic composition and have been described as a keystone species because of their role in the maintenance of coral and algal assemblages within their communities. By looking at the different densities of damselfish at varying depths and locations, this study aims to see the effects of damselfish densities on coral reef benthic composition and if the presence of damselfish is beneficial to coral reef benthos. The abundance of all damselfish was recorded within 30 x 2 m belt transects. Random photographs within the belts were taken and still images were analyzed using Coral Point Count software to determine total percent coral cover, total percent algal cover, and coral species richness. A total of 702 damselfishes over 4 species were observed. Thirteen species of coral were identified. Contrary to the predictions, a higher density of damselfish was not correlated to increased coral cover and coral species richness. There was significantly more algae than coral cover throughout the study, but such a trend fits with the theory of phase shifts of coral reefs from coral dominated to algae dominated reefs.

This student research was retrieved from Physis: Journal of Marine Science XI (Fall 2012)19: 29-34 from CIEE Bonaire.

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