, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 617-627
Date: 14 Jul 2006

Feeding by coral reef mesograzers: algae or cyanobacteria?

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Marine studies on herbivory have addressed the role of algae as food and shelter for small consumers, but the potential of benthic cyanobacteria to play similar roles is largely unknown. Here, feeding preferences were measured for eight invertebrate consumers from Guam, offered four common macroalgae and two cyanobacteria. The survivorship of another consumer raised on either macroalgae or cyanobacteria was also assessed. From the choices offered, the sacoglossans Elysia rufescens and E. ornata consumed the green macroalga Bryopsis pennata. The crab Menaethius monoceros preferred the red alga Acanthophora spicifera. The amphipods Parhyale hawaiensis and Cymadusa imbroglio consumed macroalgae and cyanobacteria in equivalent amounts, with C. imbroglio showing less selectivity among diets. In contrast to these patterns, in these assays the gastropods Stylocheilus striatus, Haminoea cymbalum, H. ovalis, and Haminoea sp. fed exclusively, or survived only, on cyanobacteria. Preferences for different cyanobacteria varied. Field surveys of cyanobacteria-associated species yielded 34 different invertebrate taxa and suggested different degrees of specificity in these associations. Tropical mesograzers exploit considerably different food resources, with some species adapted to consume cyanobacterial mats. Benthic cyanobacteria may play important roles as food and shelter for marine consumers and may indirectly influence local biodiversity through their associated fauna.

Communicated by Biology Editor H.R. Lasker