Coral reefs are among Earth’s best-studied ecosystems, yet the degree to which large predators influence the ecology of coral reefs remains an open and contentious question. Recent studies indicate the consumptive effects of large reef predators are too diffuse to elicit trophic cascades. Here, we provide evidence that such predators can produce non-consumptive (fear) effects that flow through herbivores to shape the distribution of seaweed on a coral reef.
Coral reefs are in dramatic global decline, with seaweeds commonly replacing corals. It is unclear, however, whether seaweeds harm corals directly or colonize opportunistically following their decline and then suppress coral recruitment.