Consumption of coral propagules represents a significant trophic link between corals and reef fish
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Mass spawning of corals provides a large seasonal pulse of high-energy prey that potentially benefits reef fish that are capable of capturing and digesting coral propagules. This study examines the range of fish species that consume coral propagules and also tests whether reef fish experience a significant increase in physiological condition when feeding on coral propagules. Thirty-six species of diurnal reef fish were seen to consume coral propagules released during mass coral spawning. Stomach content analyses of three reef fish species (Pomacentrus moluccensis, Abudefduf whitleyi, and Caesio cunning) revealed that both P. moluccensis and A. whitleyi feed almost exclusively on coral propagules during mass coral spawning. Fish feeding extensively on coral propagules also amassed considerable lipid stores, which could greatly improve the quality and survivorship of their progeny. In contrast, C. cunning consumed only very small quantities of coral propagules, and showed no detectable change in lipid stores during the course of the study. This study provides the first direct evidence that reef fish benefit from mass coral spawning, and reveals a potentially significant trophic link between scleractinian corals and reef fish.
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