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Competition between corals and algae on coral reefs: a review of mechanisms and evidence

Author(s): McCook LJ, Jompa J, Diaz-Pulida G

Abstract

Despite widespread acceptance that competition between scleractinian corals and benthic algae is important to the structure of coral reef communities, there is little direct experimental evidence that corals and algae do compete, and very little data on the processes and causality of their interactions. Most available evidence is observational or correlative, with intrinsic risks of confounded causality. This paper reviews and categorises the available evidence, concluding that competition between corals and algae probably is widespread on coral reefs, but also that the interaction varies considerably. Widespread replacement of corals by algae may often indicate coral mortality due to external disturbances, rather than competitive overgrowth, but may lead to competitive inhibition of coral recruitment, with consequences for reef recovery. We list eight specific processes by which corals and algae may affect each other, and suggest life history properties that will influence which of these interactions are possible. We propose a matrix for algal effects on corals, which lists the subset of processes possible for each combination of coral life form and algal functional group. This table provides a preliminary framework for improved understanding and interpretation of coral–algal interactions.

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