STRUCTURE OF THE EPIFAUNAL COMMUNITY ASSOCIATED WITH FREE-LIVING COLONIES OF MILLEPORA ALCICORNIS LINNAEUS 1758 IN PORTETE BAY, COLOMBIAN CARIBBEAN
The epifaunal community associated with free-living colonies of Millepora alcicornis, the dominant coral species in Portete Bay, was characterized from twenty living colonies randomly collected within a shallow Thalassia testudinum seabed. The three-dimensional growth colonies sheltered 15 families, 15 genera and 18 mobile invertebrate species. The 97% of individuals was represented by decapods crustaceans specially adapted as to live in association with the host. Within them, the porcelanid Petrolisthes armatus, representing 79% of the epifauna (961 individuals), was exclusively found in a juvenile stage suggesting that M. alcicornis is mainly used by this species as a nursery zone. The epifaunal composition is partially related to coral living tissue whereas the principal simbionts size is correlated with the spatial separation of coral branches. In spite of being slightly diverse in comparison with the epifaunal community found in other coral species, the epifauna found in M. alcicornis is of great interest and peculiarity by their association with the free-living form of this coral.
Associated epifauna; Millepora alcicornis; Free-living colonies; Portete Bay; Decapod crustaceans
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