Marine Biology

, Volume 147, Issue 6, pp 1435–1447 | Cite as

Geographical gradients of marine herbivorous fishes: patterns and processes

  • S. R. FloeterEmail author
  • M. D. Behrens
  • C. E. L. Ferreira
  • M. J. Paddack
  • M. H. Horn
Research Article


We present new data and the first rigorous analysis of latitudinal and thermal gradients of diversity, density and biomass of marine herbivorous fishes and review proposed explanatory mechanisms. Consistently, negative relationships between latitude, and positive relationships between sea surface temperature (SST), and relative richness and relative abundance of herbivorous fishes were found worldwide. Significant differences in the strength of gradients of richness and abundance with latitude and SST between tropical and extratropical zones were found consistently across ocean basins. Standardized sampling along the western Atlantic also showed negative relationships between latitude and total density and biomass. The trends, however, are driven by different components of the fish assemblages (i.e., scarids in the Caribbean and acanthurids in Brazil). Patterns of abundance along thermal gradients, generally associated with extensive latitudinal gradients, also were found at the local scale. Feeding rate of the ocean surgeonfish Acanthurus bahianus decreases with temperature more rapidly than the mean metabolic rate of teleost fishes. This relationship suggests a temperature-related physiological constraint. From the new standardized and comparative data presented and the review of the explanatory hypotheses, we conclude that temperature-related feeding and digestive processes are most likely involved in the distribution patterns of herbivorous fishes.


Herbivorous Species Assimilation Efficiency Herbivorous Fish Brazilian Coast Channel Island 
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.



We thank K. Lafferty, A. Clark, M. Francis, J.H. Choat, P. Munday, S.C. Pennings, B. Hawkins, P. Buston, J.P. Barreiros, R.L. Moura, R. Stevens, D. Vázquez, F. Campón and A. Moles for exchanging ideas and/or providing unpublished records and literature. S.R.F. and C.E.L.F. thank the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for the STV grants for working in Panama; J.L. Gasparini, O.J. Luiz-Júnior, W. Krohling, M. Hostin, J.P. Barreiros, L.C. Gerhardinger, A.G.V. Floeter, IEAPM staff and D.R. Roberston (STRI) for invaluable help in the field and logistical support; Padi Aware Foundation, UENF and Fundação O Boticário de Proteção à Natureza (to S.R.F.), WWF (to C.E.L.F.) for financial support. Collection of data by M.J.P. was supported by the National Center for Caribbean Coral Reef Research through EPA grant# R828020 (Upper Florida Keys); NOAA-Fisheries Coral Reef Initiative (Key West), NSF grant OCE 0095955 to R.K. Cowen and C. Hughes (Caribbean), NOAA’s “Coral Reef Conservation Grant” (2003) to R.S. Steneck, National Undersea Research Center Caribbean Marine Research Center and the Pew Fellows Program for Marine Conservation Collaborative Grant (with T. McClanahan) (Bonaire); M.J.P. thanks M. Sullivan, K. Grorud-Colvert, A.L. Chapin, T. Boone, T.B. Smith, J. Llopiz, J. Purcell, M. Sullivan, R.K. Cowen, R.S. Steneck and S.M. Shellito for field support; M.W. Miller for field and logistical support as well as for facilitating the collaboration with S.R.F.; M.D.B. acknowledges the University of California Marine Council grant 01TCEQI081080 for essential funding. M.H.H. acknowledges NSF grant OCE-9906857 for financial support. This work was conducted while S.R.F. was Postdoctoral Associate at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a center funded by NSF (Grant DEB-0072909) and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Supplementary material

227_2005_27_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (118 kb)
Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. R. Floeter
    • 1
    Email author
  • M. D. Behrens
    • 2
  • C. E. L. Ferreira
    • 3
  • M. J. Paddack
    • 4
  • M. H. Horn
    • 5
  1. 1.National Center for Ecological Analysis and SynthesisUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  3. 3.Departamento de OceanografiaIEAPMArraial do Cabo, RJBrazil
  4. 4.Division of Marine Biology & FisheriesRosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric ScienceMiamiUSA
  5. 5.Department of Biological ScienceCalifornia State University FullertonFullertonUSA

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