Epifaunal community structure in Acropora spp. (Scleractinia) on the Great Barrier Reef: implications of coral morphology and habitat complexity
The role of microhabitat in structuring epifaunal communities on four corals of varying morphology in the genus Acropora ( A. millepora , A. hyacinthus , A. pulchra , A. formosa ) was determined on two fringing reefs in the central Great Barrier Reef. Greater abundance and species richness of epifauna on tightly branched coral species in comparison to their rarity or absence on open-branched species suggests that protection afforded by complex habitats is important in structuring coral epifaunal communities. Within species, neither total colony space nor live surface area of corals was correlated with either the abundance or species richness of associated epifauna. However, space between branches significantly affected the size of Tetralia crabs associated with different coral species. Patterns in the size distribution of Tetralia on two species of Acropora suggest that crabs select coral hosts according to branch spacing, changing host species as they grow larger.