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PeerJ. 2018 Aug 8;6:e5332. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5332. eCollection 2018.

Herbivore biocontrol and manual removal successfully reduce invasive macroalgae on coral reefs.

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State of Hawai'i Division of Aquatic Resources, Honolulu, Hawai'i, United States of America.
Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Kāne'ohe, Hawai'i, United States of America.


Invasive macroalgae pose a serious threat to coral reef biodiversity by monopolizing reef habitats, competing with native species, and directly overgrowing, and smothering reef corals. Several invasive macroalgae (Eucheuma clade E, Kappaphycus clade A and B, Gracilaria salicornia, and Acanthophora spicifera) are established within Kāne'ohe Bay (O'ahu, Hawai'i, USA), and reducing invasive macroalgae cover is a coral reef conservation and management priority. Invasive macroalgae control techniques, however, are limited and few successful large-scale applications exist. Therefore, a two-tiered invasive macroalgae control approach was designed, where first, divers manually remove invasive macroalgae (Eucheuma and Kappaphycus) aided by an underwater vacuum system ("The Super Sucker"). Second, hatchery-raised juvenile sea urchins (Tripneustes gratilla), were outplanted to graze and control invasive macroalgae regrowth. To test the effectiveness of this approach in a natural reef ecosystem, four discrete patch reefs with high invasive macroalgae cover (15-26%) were selected, and macroalgae removal plus urchin biocontrol (treatment reefs, n = 2), or no treatment (control reefs, n = 2), was applied at the patch reef-scale. In applying the invasive macroalgae treatment, the control effort manually removed ∼19,000 kg of invasive macroalgae and ∼99,000 juvenile sea urchins were outplanted across to two patch reefs, totaling ∼24,000 m2 of reef area. Changes in benthic cover were monitored over 2 years (five sampling periods) before-and-after the treatment was applied. Over the study period, removal and biocontrol reduced invasive macroalgae cover by 85% at treatment reefs. Our results show manual removal in combination with hatchery raised urchin biocontrol to be an effective management approach in controlling invasive macroalgae at reef-wide spatial scales and temporal scales of months to years.


Acanthophora; Biocontrol; Coral reef; Eucheuma; Gracilaria; Invasive species; Kaneohe bay; Kappaphycus; Macroalgae; Tripneustes

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests.

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