Data for Tiddy et al. 2021 Outplanting of branching Acropora enhances recolonization of a fish species and protects massive corals from predation
Data for the publication: Tiddy, I. C., Kaullysing, D., Bailey, D. M., Chummun, P. K., Killen, S. S., Le Vin, A., & Bhagooli, R. (2021). Outplanting of branching Acropora enhances recolonization of a fish species and protects massive corals from predation. Coral Reefs, 1-13. ABSTRACT: Damselfish of the genus Stegastes inhabit territories and cultivate algal gardens on branching corals of the genus Acropora, aggressively protecting their territories from other fish and preventing predation upon corals within the territory. This behaviour has important ecological impacts and could also be useful in reducing predation on outplanted corals during reef restoration efforts. However, the degree of protection from predators may depend on the ability of Stegastes spp. to recolonise outplanted or newly established coral colonies. Protection of bleaching-resilient massive corals within territories may be of particular importance due to the role of these corals in maintaining coral cover following bleaching events. This study examined whether the presence of Stegastes spp. reduces predation on the massive bleaching-resilient coral Porites lutea in the Mauritian lagoon, and whether Stegastes spp. readily colonise outplanted branching coral fragments and provide adjacent massive corals with indirect protection from predation. Predation levels on wild-occurring and outplanted P. lutea within and outside Stegastes spp. territories were measured. In addition, Acropora muricata branches were outplanted adjacent to wild P. lutea colonies outside Stegastes spp. territories, and recolonisation of these outplants by Stegastes spp. and the impacts of recolonisation on predation were monitored. Both wild and outplanted P. lutea colonies within Stegastes spp. territories sustained less predation damage compared to colonies outside territories. Stegastes spp. recolonized outplanted A. muricata colonies within six months of outplanting, and in doing so returned predation protection to adjacent P. lutea colonies. The ability of Stegastes spp. to colonise outplanted corals and provide indirect protection to adjacent massive bleaching-resilient corals may inform coral outplanting efforts in systems where Stegastes spp. are common. Encouraging Stegastes spp. recolonisation may help to reduce predation damage to corals within territories and potentially improve the success of rehabilitation efforts.