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  1. Coral reefs are shifting from coral to algal-dominated ecosystems worldwide. Recently, Turbinaria ornata, a marine alga native to coral reefs of the South Pacific, has spread in both range and habitat usage. Given dense stands of T. ornata can function as an alternative stable state on coral reefs, it is imperative to understand the factors that underlie its success. We tested the hypothesis that T. ornata demonstrates ontogenetic variation in allocation to anti-herbivore defense, specifically that blade toughness varied nonlinearly with thallus size. We quantified the relationship between T. ornata blade toughness and thallus size for individual thalli within algal stands (N=345) on 7 fringing reefs along the north shore of Moorea, French Polynesia. We found that blade toughness was greatest at intermediate sizes that typically form canopies, with overall reduced toughness in both smaller individuals that refuge within the understory and older reproductive individuals that ultimately detach and form floating rafts. We posit this variation in blade toughness reduces herbivory on the thalli that are most exposed to herbivores and may facilitate reproduction in dispersing stages, both of which may aid the proliferation of T. ornata. 
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