Enhanced particle-feeding capacity of corals on turbid reefs (Great Barrier Reef, Australia)
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Reef corals occur across a wide range of habitats, from offshore clear waters to nearshore sediment-laden environments. This study tests the hypothesis that corals from turbid nearshore areas have greater capacity to utilise suspended sediment as a food source than conspecifics from less turbid and midshelf areas. The hypothesis was tested on two common and widespread coral species on the Great Barrier Reef (Pocillopora damicornis and Acropora millepora). The particle clearance rates of samples from more turbid reefs were two-fourfold those of conspecifics from less turbid and midshelf reefs. Rates of sediment ingestion were generally a linear function of sediment load indicating no significant saturation within the concentration range of 1–30 mg dry weight l−1. Estimated assimilation efficiency of particulate 14C varied between 50 and 80%, and was maximised for midshelf A. millepora at the lowest sediment concentration, suggesting that heterotrophy is more efficient in oligotrophic habitats. Based on feeding-response curves, assimilation efficiencies, and published records of ambient particle concentrations, representatives of these species on turbid inshore reefs are 10–20 times more heterotrophic on suspended sediment than their conspecifics on less turbid and midshelf reefs.
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