Marine Biology

, Volume 161, Issue 1, pp 61–73 | Cite as

Trophic ecology of large predatory reef fishes: energy pathways, trophic level, and implications for fisheries in a changing climate

  • Ashley J. FrischEmail author
  • Matthew Ireland
  • Ronald Baker
Original Paper


Large predatory fishes are disproportionately targeted by reef fisheries, but little is known about their trophic ecology, which inhibits understanding of community dynamics and the potential effects of climate change. In this study, stable isotope analyses were used to infer trophic ecology of a guild of large predatory fishes that are targeted by fisheries on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Each of four focal predators (Plectropomus leopardus, Plectropomus maculatus, Lethrinus miniatus and Lutjanus carponotatus) was found to have a distinct isotopic signature in terms of δ13C and δ15N. A two-source mixing model (benthic reef-based versus pelagic) indicated that P. leopardus and L. miniatus derive the majority (72 and 62 %, respectively) of their production from planktonic sources, while P. maculatus and L. carponotatus derive the majority (89 and 74 %, respectively) of their production from benthic reef-based sources. This indicates that planktonic production is important for sustaining key species in reef fisheries and highlights the need for a whole-ecosystem approach to fisheries management. Unexpectedly, there was little isotopic niche overlap between three of four focal predators, suggesting that inter-specific competition for prey may be low or absent. δ15Nitrogen indicated that the closely related P. leopardus and P. maculatus are apex predators (trophic level > 4), while δ13C indicated that each species has a different diet and degree of trophic specialisation. In view of these divergent trophic ecologies, each of the four focal predators (and the associated fisheries) are anticipated to be differentially affected by climate-induced disturbances. Thus, the results presented herein provide a useful starting point for precautionary management of exploited predator populations in a changing climate.


Coral Reef Trophic Level Great Barrier Reef Trophic Group Turf Alga 
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.



The authors are grateful to K. Magnenat, J. Rizzari, K. Munkres, S. Frisch and J. Frisch for assistance with fieldwork. This study was conducted with permission from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Permit no. G12/34941.1), Fisheries Queensland (Permit no. 152940) and the James Cook University Animal Ethics Committee (Approval no. A1742). Funding was provided by the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ashley J. Frisch
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew Ireland
    • 2
  • Ronald Baker
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Land and WaterTownsvilleAustralia

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