Contributions to Zoology, 85 (3) – 2016Michelangelo S. Moerland; Chad M. Scott; Bert W. Hoeksema: Prey selection of corallivorous muricids at Koh Tao (Gulf of Thailand) four years after a major coral bleaching event

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Corallivorous Drupella (Muricidae) snails at Koh Tao are reported to have extended their range of prey species following a major coral bleaching event in 2010. Populations of their preferred Acropora prey had locally diminished in both size and abundance, and the snails had introduced free-living mushroom corals in their diet. Although the coral community largely recovered, the Drupella population grew and reached outbreak proportions. For this study, corallivorous muricids at Koh Tao were studied more intensively to examine their identities, distribution and prey choice four years after the bleaching event. Drupella rugosa was identified as the major outbreak species and occurred at densities > 3 m-2 in depth ranges of 2-5 and 5-8 m. The density of D. rugosa was related to the live coral cover, Acropora colony density, and depth. Resource selection ratios revealed that species of Acropora, Psammocora and Pavona corals were attacked more frequently than would be expected based on their availability. Strikingly, fungiid corals were now avoided as prey in the recovered coral community, despite them being part of the preferred diet directly after the bleaching. Although D. rugosa showed a clear prey preference, it appears to be plastic by changing with prey availability. The muricids Drupella margariticola and Morula spinosa occurred in much lower densities and were less often associated with corals. Snails of the opportunistic corallivore D. margariticola usually co-occurred in D. rugosa aggregations, although they also formed feeding aggregations by themselves. Whether M. spinosa generally associates with corals as a corallivore or a scavenger has yet to be determined. Molecular analyses did not reveal cryptic speciation among snails sampled from different coral hosts and also no geographic variation. The present study also showed that corallivory is more common among D. margariticola and M. spinosa than previously known.