Depth-related patterns of coral recruitment and cryptic suspension-feeding invertebrates on Guana Island, British Virgin Islands
Scleractinian coral recruitment is known to vary at a variety of spatial scales, from centimeters to hundreds of kilometers. This study examined patterns of coral recruitment and cryptic space utilization on artificial settlement plates over three depths (6, 15 and 24 m) and at two reefs on Guana Island (18°N), British Virgin Islands. Brooding corals (mostly Agaricia spp. with some Porites spp.) dominated recruitment patterns. On both reefs, recruitment was cryptic (on bottom or side of plates) at all depths and consistently low at 24 m where a diverse assemblage of suspension-feeding invertebrates monopolized settlement space on the bottom of plates. At 6 and 15 m depth, coral recruitment was high, but varied among groups of plates spaced several meters apart. Extrapolation from the shallow recruitment rate to a m2 area reveals the highest recorded recruitment rate (333 recruits m−2 yr−1) on plates in the Caribbean region. Analyses of space use on bottom surfaces of plates left in-situ for 2 yrs showed that area suitable for coral settlement (predominantly crustose coralline algae) declined with depth. Encrusting sponges did not vary consistently among the three depths, but the cover of bivalves (mostly Spondylus americanus) increased significantly at 24 m accounting for a large portion of occupied space. There was a significant positive relationship between settlement area on bottom surfaces of plates and coral recruitment (r = 0.306), yet there was also variation in recruitment between depths and among racks that remained unexplained by available settlement area. The patterns of coral recruitment and space occupation by potential competitors are consistent with an emerging view that benthic interactions effect recruitment patterns when space is limiting, yet supply-side processes or very early benthic mortality is driving spatial variability in recruitment when space is abundant.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: May 1, 2001
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