Coral reef grazer-benthos dynamics complicated by invasive algae in a small marine reserve.
Blooms of alien invasive marine algae have become common, greatly altering the health and stability of nearshore marine ecosystems. Concurrently, herbivorous fishes have been severely overfished in many locations worldwide, contributing to increases in macroalgal cover. We used a multi-pronged, interdisciplinary approach to test if higher biomass of herbivorous fishes inside a no-take marine reserve makes this area more resistant to invasive algal overgrowth. Over a two year time period, we (1) compared fish biomass and algal cover between two fished and one unfished patch reef in Hawai'i, (2) used acoustic telemetry to determine fidelity of herbivorous fishes to the unfished reef, and (3) used metabarcoding and next-generation sequencing to determine diet composition of herbivorous fishes. Herbivore fish biomass was significantly higher in the marine reserve compared to adjacent fished reefs, whereas invasive algal cover differed by species. Herbivorous fish movements were largely confined to the unfished patch reef where they were captured. Diet analysis indicated that the consumption of invasive algae varied among fish species, with a high prevalence of comparatively rare native algal species. Together these findings demonstrate that the contribution of herbivores to coral reef resilience, via resistance to invasive algae invasion, is complex and species-specific.