Epibiont Community Compositions on Floating Turbinaria Mats, Burgeoning Ecosystems in an Increasingly Stormy Anthropocene

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Turbinaria ornata in the lagoon dislodged from dead coral after storms and other physical disturbance can form  large mats of floating algae.

Along Mo’orea's reefs, Turbinaria ornata is expanding its habitat into lagoons, replacing coral species, and contributing to ecological phase shifts towards algal dominated communities. While much of the focus is centered on algae and coral, epibionts that live on the surfaces of algae are important, overlooked players that possess crucial functions on the reef. Members of the epibiont community that are of particular concern are toxic dinoflagellates that pose harm to local coastal communities who depend on reef fisheries and coral pathogens that threaten coral reef health and recovery. As such, the ecology of these mats and the impact they may have on supporting epibiont communities, particularly toxic dinoflagellates and coral pathogens, remains understudied.

The proliferation of T. ornata on disturbed reefs and the potential for these burgeoning habitats to support and transport harmful epibionts make floating T. ornata mats a point of concern and interest. My PhD, seeks to understand the ways in which dispersal of floating macroalgal mats could transport the epibiont community and the members that pose harm for both human and coral health. Towards this aim, I plan to investigate the following objectives:

 

1. Determine if and how epibiont communities differ on attached T. ornata from the fringing reef, backreef, and reef crest.

2. Determine whether and how epibiont communities on floating T. ornata mats change over time.

3. Determine the impacts of fish herbivory in shaping the epibiont community on T. ornata mats.

Oxynoe virdis potentially feed on epibionts growing on floating T. ornata.