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The role of in situ coral nurseries in supporting mobile invertebrate epifauna

Wee, Shi Yi Crystle, Sam, Shu Qin, Sim, Wan Ting, Ng, Chin Soon Lionel, Taira, Daisuke, Afiq-Rosli, Lutfi, Kikuzawa, Yuichi Preslie, Toh, Tai Chong, Chou, Loke Ming
Journal for nature conservation 2019 v.50 pp. 125710
biodiversity, community structure, corals, ecological function, fauna, hosts, rearing
Coral nurseries are commonly employed to generate coral material for reef restoration projects, but observations of epifaunal organisms utilising the nurseries for food and shelter indicate that they can also provide important functions beyond that of coral propagation. To examine the level of biodiversity that can be supported by coral nurseries, and investigate if epifaunal communities were influenced by the presence of live coral tissue, we compared the abundance, diversity and community composition of mobile invertebrate epifauna associated with live and dead fragments of three coral species (Pocillopora acuta, Echinopora lamellosa, Platygyra sinensis) that were reared in an in situ nursery. A total of 418 mobile invertebrates spanning 63 taxa were recorded from 22 coral colonies. The three coral species hosted significantly different epifaunal communities, most likely a consequence of the difference in growth forms of the coral hosts. Significant differences in epifaunal communities were only observed between live and dead colonies of P. acuta, indicating that resource provisioning in this species is particularly influenced by the presence of live tissue. Our findings showed that coral nurseries can support a range of mobile invertebrates and function as tools to conserve threatened mobile invertebrates. This ecological function is under-studied and should be assessed in restoration programs for the conservation of corals and associated fauna.