Hot moments in spawning aggregations: implications for ecosystem-scale nutrient cycling
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- Archer, S.K., Allgeier, J.E., Semmens, B.X. et al. Coral Reefs (2015) 34: 19. doi:10.1007/s00338-014-1208-4
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Biogeochemical hot moments occur when a temporary increase in availability of one or more limiting reactants results in elevated rates of biogeochemical reactions. Many marine fish form transient spawning aggregations, temporarily increasing their local abundance and thus nutrients supplied via excretion at the aggregation site. In this way, nutrients released by aggregating fish could create a biogeochemical hot moment. Using a combination of empirical and modeling approaches, we estimate nitrogen and phosphorus supplied by aggregating Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus). Data suggest aggregating grouper supply up to an order-of-magnitude more nitrogen and phosphorus than daily consumer-derived nutrient supply on coral reefs without aggregating fish. Comparing current and historic aggregation-level excretion estimates shows that overfishing reduced nutrients supplied by aggregating fish by up to 87 %. Our study illustrates a previously unrecognized ecosystem viewpoint regarding fish spawning aggregations and provides an additional perspective on the repercussions of their overexploitation.