The biodiversity of coral reefs is dominated by invertebrates. Many of these invertebrates live in close association with scleractinian corals, relying on corals for food, habitat or settlement cues. Given their strong dependence on corals, it is of great concern that our knowledge of coral associated invertebrates is so limited, especially in light of severe and ongoing degradation of coral reef habitats and the potential for species extinctions. This review examines the taxonomic extent of coral-associated invertebrates, the levels of dependence on coral hosts, the nature of associations between invertebrates and corals and the factors that threaten coral-associated invertebrates now and in the future. There are at least 860 invertebrate species that have been described as coral associated, of which 310 are decapod crustaceans. Over half of coral-associated invertebrates appear to have an obligate dependence on live corals. Many exhibit a high degree of preference for one or two coral species, with species in the genera Pocillopora, Acropora and Stylophora commonly preferred. This level of habitat specialization may place coral-associated invertebrates at a great risk of extinction, particularly because preferred coral genera are those most susceptible to coral bleaching and mortality. In turn, many corals are also reliant on the services of particular invertebrates, leading to strong feedbacks between abundance of corals and their associated invertebrates. The loss of even a few preferred coral taxa could lead to a substantial decline in invertebrate biodiversity and have far-reaching effects on coral reef ecosystem function. A full appreciation of the consequences of further coral reef degradation for invertebrate biodiversity awaits a more complete description of the diversity of coral-associated invertebrates, the roles they play in coral reef ecosystems, their contribution to reef resilience and their conservation needs.

Bibliographic Data

Diversity, importance and vulnerability of coral associated invertebrates
Stella, J; Pratchett, M. S; Hutchings, P; Jones, G. P
Publication Type
Refereed Article
Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review
Number of pages