The trophic status of herbivorous fishes on coral reefs
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Dietary analyses of 17 species of nominally herbivorous fishes on the northern Great Barrier Reef were carried out to resolve the questions to what extent diet in nominally herbivorous reef fishes is dominated by living plant material and whether short-chain fatty acid profiles in the alimentary tract predict diet. The fishes included members of the families Acanthuridae, Scaridae and Kyphosidae. The analyses revealed consumption of a wide range of food resources including macroscopic algae, turfing algae, pelagic and planktonic animal matter, organic detritus and sediments. In only 7 of the 17 species was living algae the dominant dietary item. Gastrointestinal short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) profiles reflecting the fermentative activities of gut symbionts were used as a framework for the initial analysis of dietary patterns. The feeding patterns implied by the SCFA profiles were validated by direct observation of food material through gut content analysis. We identified four main trophic groupings differentiated by fermentation profiles and diet. These were: (1) species with low levels of SCFA in gut samples (mean mM 9.2±0.8) but a high proportion of isovalerate (mean 15.4%±4.7): Acanthurus nigricauda, A. olivaceus, Ctenochaetus striatus, Chlorurus microrhinos, C.sordidus, Scarus schlegeli; (2) species that fed on turfing, filamentous and small thallate algae and displayed moderate levels of SCFA (mean mM 21.9±2.9): Acanthurus nigricans, A.lineatus, Naso tuberosus; (3) species that fed on large thallate (macroscopic) algae with high levels of SCFA (mean mM 41.2±3.5) with very low proportions of isovalerate (mean 0.5%±0.1): Kyphosus cinerascens, K.vaigiensis, Naso unicornis, Zebrasoma scopas; and (4) species with diets dominated by planktonic animal material with moderate levels of SCFA (mean mM 21.3±1.5): Naso annulatus, N. brevirostris, N. hexacanthus, N. vlamingii. We conclude that a wide range of dietary items are taken by the 17 nominal herbivores, and that dietary groupings do not reflect taxonomic relationships. There was evidence of convergence in feeding modes and diet between phylogenetically distinct taxa and divergence within particular lineages.
KeywordsCoral Reef Reef Fish Great Barrier Reef Trophic Grouping Herbivorous Fish
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