Abstract

Three decades ago, Acropora palmata was one of the main reef-building coral species throughout the Caribbean, forming an essential component of the structural complexity of shallow coral reef habitats. These colonies still provide microhabitats for settlement, food and shelter to many vertebrates and invertebrates. The recent decline of A. palmata has been followed by a significant loss in spatial heterogeneity and possibly in species diversity. Studies addressing whether dead and living stands of Acropora hold different fish and benthic assemblages are scarce. The status of Acropora colonies and their associated species were assessed in October 2012, at two reef zones of Cayo Sombrero, Venezuela. Visual censuses of fish abundance and the number of macrofaunal individuals were recorded for both live and dead zones. Living Acropora colonies had the lowest abundance (˂31%). In both zoned the fish community was dominated by damselfishes (˂53%) and wrasses (˂36%), the benthic macrofauna by peracarid crustaceans (˂40%) and polychaetes (˂38%). Fish and benthic communities were not correlated with the condition (live or dead) of the Acropora habitats; possibly branching structures provide the necessary shelter and protection no matter if they are dead or alive. More replication is necessary to test this unexpected result. Rev. Biol. Trop. 62 (Suppl. 3): 85-93. Epub 2014 September 01.

Keywords: Acropora palmata, benthic macrofauna, Caribbean, coral reefs, reef fishes