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Coral reef degradation alters the isotopic niche of reef fishes

Abstract

The degradation of coral reefs is widely reported, yet there is a poor understanding of the adaptability of reef fishes to cope with benthic change. We tested the effects of coral reef degradation on the feeding plasticity of four reef fish species. We used isotopic niche sizes and mean δ15N and δ13C values of each species in two coral reefs that differed in benthic condition. The species chosen have contrasting feeding strategies; Chaetodon lunulatus (corallivore), Chrysiptera rollandi (zooplanktivore), Halichoeres melanurus (invertivore) and Zebrasoma velifer (herbivore). We predicted that the corallivore would have a lower mean δ15N value and a smaller isotopic niche size in the degraded reef, that the herbivore and the invertivore might have a larger isotopic niche size and/or a different mean δ13C value, whereas the zooplanktivore might be indifferent since the species is not linked to coral degradation. Some results matched our predictions; C. lunulatus had a smaller niche size on the degraded reef, but no difference in mean δ15N and δ13C values, and H. melanurus displayed an increase in niche size and a lower mean δ15N value on the degraded reef. Some other results were contrary to our predictions; whereas Z. velifer and C. rollandi had smaller mean δ13C values but no difference in niche size. Our findings suggest there may be feeding plasticity to maintain a similar diet despite contrasting habitat characteristics, with different amplitude depending on species. Such findings suggest that certain species guilds would probably adapt to changes linked to habitat degradation.

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Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Antoine Teitelbaum for his help in catching fish, to Clément Pigot for his help in preparing samples, to Gaël Guillou for running stable isotopic analyses, to the Province Sud of New Caledonia for permitting the sampling (permit no.: 3238-2014/ARR/DENV), to the University of New Caledonia for funding the field-trip of Nicholas Graham. We thank the anonymous referees for their constructive comments that allowed us to improve the article.

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Correspondence to Yves Letourneur.

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Letourneur, Y., Briand, M.J. & Graham, N.A.J. Coral reef degradation alters the isotopic niche of reef fishes. Mar Biol 164, 224 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-017-3272-0

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