Variation in herbivore grazing behavior across Caribbean reef sites

Herbivorous fish can increase coral growth and survival by grazing down algal competitors. With coral reefs in global decline, maintaining adequate herbivory has become a primary goal for many managers. However, herbivore biomass targets assume grazing behavior is consistent across different reef systems, even though relatively few have been studied. We document grazing behavior of two scarid species in Antigua, Barbuda, and Bonaire. Our analyses show significant differences in intraspecific feeding rates, time spent grazing, and intensity of grazing across sites, which may alter the ecological impact of a given scarid population. We suggest several hypothesized mechanisms for these behavioral variations that would benefit from explicit testing in future research. As managers set targets to enhance herbivory on reefs, it is critical that we understand potential differences in scarid grazing impact. Our findings demonstrate the variability of grazing behavior across different reef sites and call for further investigation of the drivers and ecological implications of these inconsistencies.

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