Coastal temperate rocky reefs are economically valuable and highly diverse, yet the trophodynamics of these productive systems are understudied. Quantifying the trophic linkages that support fish assemblages on these reefs is valuable for understanding how these assemblages may change due to changes in benthic and pelagic primary production. The goal of this study was to quantify the relative importance of primary sources of nutrition (here, macroalgae, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and detritus) for supporting fish assemblages on shallow rocky reefs. We constructed a general food web that traces the food sources supporting fish biomass on shallow temperate reefs near Sydney, Australia, using species composition data from 17 reefs based on field sampling and the Reef Life Survey (reeflifesurvey.com), and combined this with dietary information sourced from field collections and published literature. Planktivorous fish typically dominated reef fish assemblages, comprising an average of 41% of the total fish biomass (ranging from 12 to 71% among sites). Our food web analysis showed that, on average, 56% (±5% s.e.) of the total fish biomass was ultimately supported by phytoplankton (and 53% from zooplankton), in comparison to 31% (±4%) supported by macroalgae and 12% (±2%) by detritus. This result highlights the dominance of zooplanktivorous fish on temperate reefs and also their importance as prey for piscivores. Our findings demonstrate the importance of understanding the coastal dynamics of plankton and planktivory for predicting the response of temperate reefs and their fish assemblages to a changing climate.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Abrantes K, Sheaves M (2009) Food web structure in a near-pristine mangrove area of the Australian Wet Tropics. Estuarine Coastal Shelf Sci 82:597–607
Abrantes K, Barnett A, Baker R, Sheaves M (2015) Habitat-specific food webs and trophic interactions supporting coastal-dependent fishery species: an Australian case study. Rev Fish Biol Fish 25:337–363
Ainsworth CH, Kaplan IC, Levin PS, Mangel M (2010) A statistical approach for estimating fish diet compositions from multiple data sources: Gulf of California case study. Ecol Appl 20:2188–2202
Alldredge AL, King JM (2009) Near-surface enrichment of zooplankton over a shallow back reef: implications for coral reef food webs. Coral Reefs 28:895–908
Bailey TG, Robertson DR (1982) Organic and caloric levels of fish feces relative to its consumption by coprophagous reef fishes. Mar Biol 69:45–50
Barrett NS et al. (2014) Adaptive management of temperate reefs to minimise effects of climate change: developing new effective approaches for ecological monitoring and predictive modelling. University of Tasmania, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, Report for the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation
Bennett S, Wernberg T, Connell SD, Hobday AJ, Johnson CR, Poloczanska ES (2016) The ‘Great Southern Reef’: social, ecological and economic value of Australia’s neglected kelp forests. Mar Freshw Res 67:47–56
Bray RN, Miller AC, Geesey GG (1981) The fish connection: a trophic link between planktonic and rocky reef communities? Science 214:204–205
Bulman C, Althaus F, He X, Bax NJ, Williams A (2001) Diets and trophic guilds of demersal fishes of the south-eastern Australian shelf. Mar Freshw Res 52:537–548
Bulman C, Condie S, Furlani D, Cahill M, Klaer N, Goldsworthy S, Knuckey I (2006) Trophic dynamics of the eastern shelf and slope of the South East Fishery: impacts of and on the fishery. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Report for the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation
Burchmore JJ, Pollard DA, Bell JD, Middleton MJ, Pease BC, Matthews J (1985) An ecological comparison of artificial and natural rocky reef fish communities in Botany Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Bull Mar Sci 37:70–85
Champion C, Suthers IM, Smith JA (2015) Zooplanktivory is a key process for fish production on a coastal artificial reef. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 541:1–14
Christensen V, Pauly D (1992) ECOPATH II—a software for balancing steady-state ecosystem models and calculating network characteristics. Ecol Model 61:169–185
Connell SD (2007) Subtidal Temperate Rocky Habitats: Habitat Heterogeneity at Local to Continental Scales. In: Connell SD, Gillanders BM (eds) Marine Ecology. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 378–401
Davenport SR, Bax NJ (2002) A trophic study of a marine ecosystem off southeastern Australia using stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 59:514–530
de Goeij JM, van Oevelen D, Vermeij MJA, Osinga R, Middelburg JJ, de Goeij AFPM, Admiraal W (2013) Surviving in a marine desert: the sponge loop retains resources within coral reefs. Science 342:108–110
Eddy TD (2011) Recent observations of reef fishes at the Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve, New Zealand. NZ J Mar Freshw Res 45:153–159
Edgar GJ, Shaw C (1995) The production and trophic ecology of shallow-water fish assemblages in southern Australia I. Species richness, size-structure and production of fishes in Western Port, Victoria. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 194:53–81
Edgar GJ, Stuart-Smith RD (2014) Systematic global assessment of reef fish communities by the Reef Life Survey program. Scientific Data 1:140007
Edgar GJ et al (2014) Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas with five key features. Nature 506:216–220
Edwards M, Richardson AJ (2004) Impact of climate change on marine pelagic phenology and trophic mismatch. Nature 430:881–884
Farina S et al (2014) Differences in predator composition alter the direction of structure-mediated predation risk in macrophyte communities. Oikos 123:1311–1322
Floeter SR, Krohling W, Gasparini JL, Ferreira CEL, Zalmon IR (2007) Reef fish community structure on coastal islands of the southeastern Brazil: the influence of exposure and benthic cover. Environ Biol Fish 78:147–160
Forrest RE (2008) Simulation models for estimating productivity and trade-offs in the data limited fisheries of New South Wales, Australia. The University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Frederich B, Fabri G, Lepoint G, Vandewalle P, Parmentier E (2009) Trophic niches of thirteen damselfishes (Pomacentridae) at the Grand Récif of Toliara, Madagascar. Ichthyol Res 56:10–17
Frisch AJ, Ireland M, Baker R (2014) Trophic ecology of large predatory reef fishes: energy pathways, trophic level, and implications for fisheries in a changing climate. Mar Biol 161:61–73
Gillanders B (1995) Feeding ecology of the temperate marine fish Achoerodus viridis (Labridae): size, seasonal and site-specific differences. Mar Freshw Res 46:1009–1020
Glasby TM, Kingsford MJ (1994) Atypichthys strigatus (Pisces: Scorpididae): An opportunistic planktivore that responds to benthic disturbances and cleans other fishes. Aust J Ecol 19:385–394
Gregson MA, Booth DJ (2005) Zooplankton patchiness and the associated shoaling response of the temperate reef fish Trachinops taeniatus. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 299:269–275
Grey J, Jones RI, Sleep D (2001) Seasonal changes in the importance of the source of organic matter to the diet of zooplankton in Loch Ness, as indicated by stable isotope analysis. Limnol Oceanogr 46:505–513
Hadwen WL, Russell GL, Arthington AH (2007) Gut content- and stable isotope-derived diets of four commercially and recreationally important fish species in two intermittently open estuaries. Mar Freshw Res 58:363–375
Hallegraeff GM (1981) Seasonal study of phytoplankton pigments and species at a coastal station off Sydney: importance of diatoms and the nanoplankton. Mar Biol 61:107–118
Hamner WM, Jones MS, Carleton JH, Hauri IR, Williams DM (1988) Zooplankton, planktivorous fish, and water currents on a windward reef face: Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Bull Mar Sci 42:459–479
Hobson K, Ambrose W Jr, Renaud P (1995) Sources of primary production, benthic-pelagic coupling, and trophic relationships within the Northeast Water Polynya: insights from delta super (13) C and delta super (15) N analysis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 128:1–10
Hoedt F, Dimmlich W (1994) Diet of subadult Australian salmon, Arripis truttaceus, in Western Port, Victoria. Mar Freshw Res 45:617–623
Hughes JM, Stewart J, Lyle JM, McAllister J, Stocks JR, Suthers IM (2013) Latitudinal, ontogenetic, and historical shifts in the diet of a carnivorous teleost, Arripis trutta, in a coastal pelagic ecosystem altered by climate change. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 70:1209–1230
Hyslop E (1980) Stomach contents analysis-a review of methods and their application. J Fish Biol 17:411–429
Johnson CR et al (2011) Climate change cascades: shifts in oceanography, species’ ranges and subtidal marine community dynamics in eastern Tasmania. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 400:17–32
Kingsford M, MacDiarmid A (1988) Interrelations between planktivorous reef fish and zooplankton in temperate waters. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 48:103–117
Knott NA, Underwood AJ, Chapman MG, Glasby TM (2004) Epibiota on vertical and on horizontal surfaces on natural reefs and on artificial structures. J Mar Biol Assoc U K 84:1117–1130
Last PR, White WT, Gledhill DC, Hobday AJ, Brown R, Edgar GJ, Pecl G (2011) Long-term shifts in abundance and distribution of a temperate fish fauna: a response to climate change and fishing practices. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 20:58–72
Lenz J (1977) On detritus as a food source for pelagic filter-feeders. Mar Biol 41:39–48
Marzinelli EM et al (2015) Large-scale geographic variation in distribution and abundance of Australian deep-water kelp forests. PLoS One 10:e0118390
McMeans BC, Rooney N, Arts MT, Fisk AT (2013) Food web structure of a coastal Arctic marine ecosystem and implications for stability. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 482:17–28
Melville AJ, Connolly RM (2003) Spatial analysis of stable isotope data to determine primary sources of nutrition for fish. Oecologia 136:499–507
Metcalf SJ (2010) Qualitative models to complement quantitative ecosystem models for the analysis of data-limited marine ecosystems and fisheries. Rev Fish Sci 18:248–265
Morton JK, Platell ME, Gladstone W (2008) Differences in feeding ecology among three co-occurring species of wrasse (Teleostei: Labridae) on rocky reefs of temperate Australia. Mar Biol 154:577–592
Opitz S (1996) Trophic Interactions in Caribbean Reefs. International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management
Parsons DF, Suthers IM, Cruz DO, Smith JA (2016) Effects of habitat on fish abundance and species composition on temperate rocky reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 561:155–171
Pasquaud S, Pillet M, David V, Sautour B, Elie P (2010) Determination of fish trophic levels in an estuarine system. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 86:237–246
Polis GA, Anderson WB, Holt RD (1997) Toward an integration of landscape and food web ecology: the dynamics of spatially subsidized food webs. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 28:289–316
Poore AB, Graba-Landry A, Favret M, Sheppard Brennand H, Byrne M, Dworjanyn S (2013) Direct and indirect effects of ocean acidification and warming on a marine plant–herbivore interaction. Oecologia 173:1113–1124
R Core Team (2016) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna
Ramírez F, Pérez-Matus A, Eddy TD, Landaeta MF (2013) Trophic ecology of abundant reef fish in a remote oceanic island: coupling diet and feeding morphology at the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, Chile. J Mar Biol Assoc U K 93:1457–1469
Richardson AJ (2008) In hot water: zooplankton and climate change. ICES J Mar Sci 65:279–295
Rothans TC, Miller AC (1991) A link between biologically imported particulate organic nutrients and the detritus food web in reef communities. Mar Biol 110:145–150
Sheaves M, Baker R, Abrantes KG, Connolly RM (2016) Fish biomass in tropical estuaries: substantial variation in food web structure, sources of nutrition and ecosystem-supporting processes. Estuaries Coasts 1–14
Smith JA, Baumgartner LJ, Suthers IM, Ives MC, Taylor MD (2012) Estimating the stocking potential of fish in impoundments by modelling supply and steady-state demand. Freshw Biol 57:1482–1499
Staehr PA, Wernberg T (2009) Physiological responses of Ecklonia radiata (Laminariales) to a latitudinal gradient in ocean temperature. J Phycol 45:91–99
Steneck RS, Graham MH, Bourque BJ, Corbett D, Erlandson JM, Estes JA, Tegner MJ (2002) Kelp forest ecosystems: biodiversity, stability, resilience and future. Environ Conserv 29:436–459
Stevenson C et al (2007) High apex predator biomass on remote Pacific islands. Coral Reefs 26:47–51
Underwood AJ, Kennelly SJ (1990) Ecology of marine algae on rocky shores and subtidal reefs in temperate Australia. Hydrobiologia 192:3–20
Vergés A et al. (2014a) The tropicalization of temperate marine ecosystems: climate-mediated changes in herbivory and community phase shifts. Proc R Soc B-Biol Sci 281:20140846
Vergés A et al (2014b) Tropical rabbitfish and the deforestation of a warming temperate sea. J Ecol 102:1518–1527
Waters JM et al (2010) Australia’s marine biogeography revisited: Back to the future? Austral Ecol 35:988–992
Watson RA et al. (2013) Ecosystem model of Tasmanian waters explores impacts of climate-change induced changes in primary productivity. Ecol Model 264:115–129
Weaver DC, Dennis GD, Sulak KJ (2002) Northeastern Gulf of Mexico and Marine Ecosystem Program: Community Structure and Trophic Ecology of Dermersal Fishes on the Pinnacles Reef Tract. U.S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey USGS, and Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, Biological Sciences Report USGS BSR 2001-0008 OCS Study MMS 2002-034
Wernberg T, Kendrick GA, Phillips JC (2003) Regional differences in kelp-associated algal assemblages on temperate limestone reefs in south-western Australia. Divers Distrib 9:427–441
Wernberg T et al (2011) Impacts of climate change in a global hotspot for temperate marine biodiversity and ocean warming. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 400:7–16
Willis TJ, Anderson MJ (2003) Structure of cryptic reef fish assemblages: relationships with habitat characteristics and predator density. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 257:209–221
Willis TJ, Millar RB, Babcock RC (2000) Detection of spatial variability in relative density of fishes: comparison of visual census, angling, and baited underwater video. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 198:249–260
Woodland RJ, Secor DH (2013) Benthic-pelagic coupling in a temperate inner continental shelf fish assemblage. Limnol Oceanogr 58:966–976
Young CM (1990) Larval predation by epifauna on temperate reefs: scale, power and the scarcity of measurable effects. Aust J Ecol 15:413–426
Young JW et al. (2015) The trophodynamics of marine top predators: Current knowledge, recent advances and challenges. Deep-Sea Res Pt II(113):170–187
The authors recognise the data shared by the Reef Life Survey (reeflifesurvey.com). This article is Sydney Institute of Marine Science Contribution #202.
This research was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project (Grant Number LP120100592).
Conflict of interest
All authors declared that they have no conflict of interest.
This research was done under the University of NSW Animal Care and Ethics Committee (ACEC) approval #10/15B.
Reviewed by N. S. Barrett and an undisclosed expert.
Responsible Editor: C. Harrod.
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
Truong, L., Suthers, I.M., Cruz, D.O. et al. Plankton supports the majority of fish biomass on temperate rocky reefs. Mar Biol 164, 73 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-017-3101-5
- Fish Assemblage
- Reef Fish
- Trophic Group
- Fish Biomass