Marine Biology

, 165:180 | Cite as

Discordance between diet analysis and dietary macronutrient content in four nominally herbivorous fishes from the Southwestern Atlantic

  • Thiago C. Mendes
  • Carlos Eduardo L. Ferreira
  • Kendall D. Clements
Original paper


Herbivorous fishes are an important component of coral reef systems worldwide, but their nutritional ecology is poorly understood, particularly the relationships between the taxonomic composition and the nutritional composition of their diets. We compared dietary composition with % carbon, % nitrogen and C:N ratios of diet in four species of nominally herbivorous fishes from the Southwestern Atlantic and used literature values to calculate proportional contributions of dietary items to total nitrogen intake. Both Sparisoma axillare (Labridae, Scarinae) and Acanthurus chirurgus (Acanthuridae) had a diet composed mainly of detritus, with contributions of red algae. However, the diet of S. axillare displayed higher %N and a lower C:N ratio, although animal material made only a slightly greater contribution to total nitrogen intake than in A. chirurgus. Kyphosus sectatrix (Kyphosidae) ingested mainly carbon-rich corticated algae, while Diplodus argenteus (Sparidae) had a varied, omnivorous diet. These results indicate that conventional diet analysis may not reveal important interspecific differences in nutrient intake and that a reassessment of the nutrient intake of different herbivorous fishes is required to fully understand their ecology. This finding highlights the fact that foods of nominally herbivorous fishes vary greatly in nutritional quality. Moreover, conventional dietary categories such as detritus may exhibit considerable heterogeneity in taxonomic and nutritional composition, suggesting a previously unrecognised level of dietary selectivity in this fish assemblage.



We thank Cesar Cordeiro who helped collecting the fishes; and Howard Choat, Roberta Bonaldo and Cesar Cordeiro for helpful discussions. We also thank three anonymous reviewers and the handling editor for valuable comments on this paper.


Financial support was given by FAPERJ (through a visiting professor grant to KDC—APV#E-26/111.654/2012), CNPq (with a Sanduíche Scholarship to TCM—# 246840/2012-9), Fundação O Boticário de Proteção à Natureza (Grant #0898/20111) and ECOHUB that provides continuous support to LECAR activities.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All collections were performed under environmental and ethical permits of responsible agencies (ICMBIO permit #46271).

Supplementary material

227_2018_3438_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.9 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 3991 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thiago C. Mendes
    • 1
    • 2
  • Carlos Eduardo L. Ferreira
    • 2
  • Kendall D. Clements
    • 3
  1. 1.Departamento de EcologiaUniversidade Federal do Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil
  2. 2.Reef Systems Ecology and Conservation Lab, Departamento de Biologia MarinhaUniversidade Federal FluminenseNiteróiBrazil
  3. 3.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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