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Turf algae are becoming more abundant on coral reefs worldwide, but their effects on other benthic organisms remain poorly described. To describe the general characteristics of competitive interactions between corals and turf algae, we determined the occurrence and outcomes of coral – turf algal interactions among different coral growth forms (branching, upright, massive, encrusting, plating, and solitary) on a shallow reef in Vietnam. In total, the amount of turf algal interaction, i.e., the proportion of the coral boundary directly bordering turf algae, was quantified for 1276 coral colonies belonging to 27 genera and the putative outcome of each interaction was noted. The amount of turf algal interaction and the outcome of these interactions differed predictably among the six growth forms. Encrusting corals interacted most often with turf algae, but also competed most successfully against turf algae. The opposite was observed for branching corals, which rarely interacted with turf algae and rarely won these competitive interactions. Including all other growth forms, a positive relationship was found between the amount of competitive interactions with neighboring turf algae and the percentage of such interaction won by the coral. This growth form dependent ability to outcompete turf algae was not only observed among coral species, but also among different growth forms in morphologically plastic coral genera (Acropora, Favia, Favites, Montastrea, Montipora, Porites) illustrating the general nature of this relationship.
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