Trophic structure in natural habitats of the abalone Haliotis discus hannai with distinct algal vegetation of kelp and crustose coralline algae: implication of ontogenetic niche shifts
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- Won, NI., Kawamura, T., Takami, H. et al. Fish Sci (2013) 79: 87. doi:10.1007/s12562-012-0578-1
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The abundance, species composition, and stable isotope ratios of benthic organisms were investigated to determine the trophic structures in abalone (Haliotis discus hannai) habitats, which are characterized by contrasting vegetation of crustose coralline algae (CCA) and kelp beds. A size–frequency analysis revealed that juvenile abalones with shell lengths (SLs) smaller than ~30 mm primarily inhabited CCA beds, whereas adults were abundant in kelp beds. Stable isotope analyses indicated that CCA beds were composed of a single food chain, whereas kelp beds supported multiple food chains. The abalone were divided into three size groups to estimate potential species interactions during their ontogeny. A small gastropod, Homalopoma sangarense, was the most abundant species, but is suspected to be less competitive with abalone, especially in CCA beds. An abundant starfish Asterina pectinifera appeared to function as a potential predator of juvenile abalones in both CCA and kelp beds. We concluded that CCA beds are essential for immediate post-settlement processes of abalones, whereas kelp beds are more important for providing refuge and food sources for adult abalones. The present study highlights that ontogenetic niche shifting can be a successful life-history strategy to sustain the abalone population in a subtidal rocky shore ecosystem.