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The grazing activities of the tropical echinoid Diadema antillarum Philippi can markedly influence the structure of the shallow-water epibenthic coral reef community. The elimination of an entire Diadema population from a patch reef in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands resulted in a great increase in macro-algal biomass, alterations in species composition, shifts in dominance, an increase in species numbers, and a decrease in equitability. The increase noted in number of species may be indicative of either initial pre-competitive phases of succession or the creation of a new habitat- the micro-canopy. Experiments involving the caging of Diadema have shown that the organism's browsing habits may be extensively disruptive to virgin coral substrate. This evidence introduces the possibility that epifaunal community structure may be controlled through the disturbance of newly settled larvae of sessile epibenthic macro-invertebrates.

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Journal of Marine Research, v. 32, p. 47-53

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