Coral mucus stable isotope composition and labeling: experimental evidence for mucus uptake by epizoic acoelomorph worms
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- Naumann, M.S., Mayr, C., Struck, U. et al. Mar Biol (2010) 157: 2521. doi:10.1007/s00227-010-1516-3
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Mucus released by scleractinian corals can act as an important energy and nutrient carrier in coral reef ecosystems, and a distinct isotopic signature would allow following the fate of this material. This study investigates the natural C and N stable isotopic signatures of mucus released by four scleractinian coral genera (Acropora, Fungia, Pocillopora and Stylophora) in comparison with those of suspended particulate organic matter (POM) in seawater of a Northern Red Sea fringing coral reef near Aqaba, Jordan. The natural δ13C and δ15N signatures of coral mucus differed significantly from seawater POM for the majority of seasonal comparisons, but were inappropriate for explicit tracing of mucus in the coral reef food web. Thus, a labeling technique using stable isotope tracers (13C and 15N) was developed that produced δ13C values of up to 122 ± 5‰ (mean ± SE) and δ15N of up to 2,100 ± 151‰ in mucus exuded by Fungia corals. 13C and 15N-enriched compounds were rapidly (within 3 h) and light-dependently transferred from the endosymbiotic zooxanthellae to the mucus-producing coral host. The traceability of 15N-labeled mucus was examined by evaluating its uptake and potential utilization by epizoic acoelomorph Waminoa worms naturally occurring on a range of scleractinian coral taxa. This tracer experiment resulted in uptake of coral mucus by the coral-associated acoelomorphs and further demonstrated the possibility to trace stable isotope-labeled coral mucus by revealing a new trophic pathway in coral reef ecosystems.