Coral Reefs

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 617–627 | Cite as

Feeding by coral reef mesograzers: algae or cyanobacteria?



Marine studies on herbivory have addressed the role of algae as food and shelter for small consumers, but the potential of benthic cyanobacteria to play similar roles is largely unknown. Here, feeding preferences were measured for eight invertebrate consumers from Guam, offered four common macroalgae and two cyanobacteria. The survivorship of another consumer raised on either macroalgae or cyanobacteria was also assessed. From the choices offered, the sacoglossans Elysia rufescens and E. ornata consumed the green macroalga Bryopsis pennata. The crab Menaethius monoceros preferred the red alga Acanthophora spicifera. The amphipods Parhyale hawaiensis and Cymadusa imbroglio consumed macroalgae and cyanobacteria in equivalent amounts, with C. imbroglio showing less selectivity among diets. In contrast to these patterns, in these assays the gastropods Stylocheilus striatus, Haminoea cymbalum, H. ovalis, and Haminoea sp. fed exclusively, or survived only, on cyanobacteria. Preferences for different cyanobacteria varied. Field surveys of cyanobacteria-associated species yielded 34 different invertebrate taxa and suggested different degrees of specificity in these associations. Tropical mesograzers exploit considerably different food resources, with some species adapted to consume cyanobacterial mats. Benthic cyanobacteria may play important roles as food and shelter for marine consumers and may indirectly influence local biodiversity through their associated fauna.


Cyanobacteria Mesograzers Marine herbivory Food choice Invertebrate epifauna 



Support for this research was provided by National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Supplement (to E. Cruz-Rivera) to NIH grant CA 53001 (J. Horwitz, P.I.). The authors are grateful to Clay Carlson, Patty Jo Hoff, Richard Heard, and Peter Ng who identified various invertebrate specimens over the years. Two anonymous reviewers whose comments improved this manuscript are also gratefully acknowledged. This is contribution # 526 of the University of Guam Marine Laboratory and contribution # 652 from the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marine Science InstituteThe University of Texas at AustinPort AransasUSA
  2. 2.Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort PierceFort PierceUSA

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