Implications of changing Caribbean coral reefs on Diadema antillarum larvae settlement

Tom Wijers*, Britt van Herpen, Djan Mattijssen, Albertinka J. Murk, Joshua T. Patterson, Alwin Hylkema

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Tropical western Atlantic reefs have gradually shifted from being dominated by corals to being mainly covered by macroalgae. The mass-mortality of the sea urchin Diadema antillarum in the 80s and the slow to non-existent recovery exacerbated this shift. Chemical cues associated with these reefs are expected to have shifted too with potential negative effects on larval recruitment, possibly limiting recovery of important species like D. antillarum. In this study, we tested the effects of naturally derived biofilm and macroalgae species native to Caribbean coral reefs on the settlement rate of cultured D. antillarum larvae in two separate experiments. Crustose coralline algae (CCA) were included in both experiments, making it possible to compare settlement rates from both experiments. A biofilm of one week old yielded significantly lower settlement rates compared to two, four, and six weeks old biofilm and the highest settlement rate was found for CCA with over 62% of total larvae. All six tested macroalgae species resulted in settled larvae, with little significant difference between algal species, partly due to a high variation in settlement rates within treatments. Sargassum fluitans induced the highest settlement rate with 33%, which was not significantly different from CCA with 29%. We conclude that dominant macroalgae species likely to be encountered by D. antillarum on shifted reefs are no major constraint to settlement. Our findings increase the understanding of alternative stable state settlement dynamics for a keystone coral reef herbivore.

Original languageEnglish
Article number48
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • Biofilm
  • Crustose coralline algae
  • Larval settlement
  • Macroalgae
  • Recruitment


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