Marine Biology

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 211–234 | Cite as

Ecology of Conus on eastern Indian Ocean fringing reefs: Diversity of species and resource utilization

  • A. J. Kohn
  • J. W. Nybakken


The most diverse assemblages of the genus Conus known occur on fringing coral reefs in Thailand and Indonesia. As many as 27 congeneric species of these gastropods inhabit a single reef; in all, we examined 1,350 individuals of 48 species. Several attributes of the populations we observed conform to expectations of a model of ecological characteristics of bench and reef Conus proposed by Kohn (1971a). Number of species (S) averaged 15, and species diversity (H″) averaged 2.3 in the most heterogeneous habitat type — topographically complex, subtidal reef platforms (Type III habitat). Both species richness and evenness of distribution of individuals among species contribute strongly to H″. Fewer congeners and greater numerical dominance by single species characterize more homogeneous habitats. On subtidal reef platforms with large areas of sand substrate and less coral limestone (Type I–III habitat), mean values were S=10, and H″=1.6. In the one intensively studied, truncated reef-limestone platform (Type II–III intermediate habitat), S=13 and H″=1.4. Summed population density of all Conus species in Type III and I–III habitats is similar (0.02 to 0.05 individuals /m2) and comparable to estimates from similar habitats elsewhere in the Indo-West Pacific region. Mean density (0.7/m2) and other population attributes in Type II–III habitat more closely resemble those of Type II than Type III habitats in general. We combined analysis of species diversity and other attributes of assemblages in habitats of different environmental complexity with analysis of microhabitat and food-resource utilization, in order to demonstrate the extent to which specialization on different resources occurs in assemblages differing in diversity and habitat type. In the habitats studied, co-occurring species of Conus specialized to a greater extent on different prey species than on different microhabitat patches, but degree of microhabitat specialization was greater than in similarly complex habitats with assemblages of lower diversity elsewhere in the Indo-West Pacific region. While most Conus species preyed primarily on a different species or higher taxon of polychaetes, diets are not more specialized or dissimilar than in similar habitats elsewhere. Degree of specialization on different prey is not correlated with Conus species diversity in the different types of habitats studied. The data lead to the conclusion that differential predation is as important — and differential microhabitat utilization is more important — in permitting coexistence of potentially competing congeners, compared with conditions in habitats of comparable heterogeneity that support fewer congeners farther from the center of the Indo-West Pacific region. Pairwise comparisons of congeners indicate that many species pairs have low or no overlap in both microhabitat and food utilization. Members of species pairs with high overlap in microhabitat utilization typically eat different prey organisms, and those with similar diets typically occupy different habitats or microhabitats. This applies to molluscivorous as well as vermivorous species. Information on the diets of 11 species is reported here for the first time. Of 48 Indo-West Pacific Conus species whose food is now known, 35 prey on polychaetes, 2 on enteropneusts, 6 on gastropods, and 5 on fishes. Vermivorous Conus prey on relatively few of the polychaete species present in the environments. Species eaten represent only 12% of a total estimated polychaete population density of 27,000 individuals /m2. Certain very abundant polychaetes may be protected from predation by Conus by their small size, others by their long tubes. Two new aspects of size-selective predation by Conus are reported: (1) Although comparisons of predation rate with prey standing-crop suggest that food is plentiful, selective predation on the largest prey individuals present suggests that only small proportions of prey-species populations may have large enough body size to repay foraging effort by the Conus present; (2) composition of the diet changes qualitatively with increase in body size in several vermivorous Conus species; shifting by larger individuals to larger prey species could be documented in C. ebraeus.


Coral Reef Polychaete Conus Species Large Prey Eastern Indian Ocean 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. Kohn
    • 1
  • J. W. Nybakken
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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