Coral-associated fauna predominantly consists of invertebrates and constitutes an important component of coral reef biodiversity. The symbionts depend on their hosts for food, shelter and substrate. They may act as parasites by feeding on their hosts, by overgowing their polyps, or by excavating their skeletons. Because some of these species partly reside inside their hosts, they may be cryptic and can easily be overlooked in biodiversity surveys. Since no quantitative overview is available about these inter-specific relationships, this present study adresses variation in host ranges and specificity across four large coral-associated taxa and between the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific oceans. These taxa are: coral barnacles (Pyrgomatidae, n = 95), coral gall crabs (Cryptochiridae, n = 54), tubeworms (Serpulidae, n = 31), and date mussels (Lithophaginae, n = 23). A total of 335 host coral species was recorded. An index of host specificity (STD) was calculated per symbiont species, based on distinctness in taxonomic host range levels (species, genus, family, etc.). Mean indices were statistically compared among the four associated taxa and the two oceanic coral reef regions. Barnacles were the most host-specific, tubeworms the least. Indo-Pacific associates were approximately 10 times richer in species and two times more host-specific than their Atlantic counterparts. Coral families varied in the number of associates, with some hosting none. This variation could be linked to host traits (coral growth form, maximum host size) and is most probably also a result of the evolutionary history of the interspecific relationships.

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International Journal for Parasitology

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Staff publications

van der Schoot, R., & Hoeksema, B. (2023). Host specificity of coral-associated fauna and its relevance for coral reef biodiversity. International Journal for Parasitology. doi:10.1016/j.ijpara.2023.09.002