Variation in the structure of epifaunal invertebrate assemblages among coral hosts
The high biodiversity of coral reefs is attributable to the many invertebrate groups which live in symbiotic relationships with other reef organisms, particularly those which associate with the living coral habitat. However, few studies have examined the diversity and community structure of coral-dwelling invertebrates and how they vary among coral species. This study quantified the species richness and composition of animals associated with four common species of branching corals ( Acropora nasuta , A. millepora , Pocillopora damicornis , and Seriatopora hystrix ) at Lizard Island in the northern Great Barrier Reef. One hundred and seventy-eight nominal species from 12 different phyla were extracted across 50 replicate colonies of each coral host. A single coral colony, approximately 20 cm in diameter, harbored as many as 73 individuals and 24 species. There were substantial differences in invertebrate species composition among coral hosts of different families as well as genera. Twenty-seven species (15% of all taxa collected) were found on only one of the four different coral species, which may potentially indicate some level of specialization among coral hosts. The distinct assemblages on different coral species, and the presence of potential specialists, suggests invertebrate communities will be sensitive to the differential loss of branching coral species resulting from coral reef degradation.