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First experimental evidence of corals feeding on seagrass matter


We present the first experimental evidence of a coral (Oulastrea crispata) ingesting and assimilating seagrass material. Tropical seagrass meadows export a substantial portion of their productivity and can provide an important source of nutrients to neighbouring systems such as coral reefs; however, little is known about the mechanisms of this link. To investigate whether seagrass nutrient uptake via coral heterotrophy is possible, we conducted a feeding experiment with seagrass particulate and dissolved organic matter. Using gut extractions and stable isotope analyses, we determined that O. crispata ingested 15N-enriched seagrass particles and assimilated the nitrogen into its tissue at a rate of 0.75 μg N cm−2 h−1. Corals took up nitrogen from dissolved matter at a comparable rate of 0.98 μg N cm−2 h−1. While other ecological connections between seagrass meadows and reef ecosystems are well known, our results suggest a previously unstudied direct nutritional link between seagrasses and corals.

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Many thanks to Bert Hoeksema and Kelvin Lim for logistical assistance. This research was carried out as part of the SDWAs Marine & Coastal Research Programme (Theme 2): ‘Dredging and infrastructure development near critical marine ecosystems’ (R-264-001-001-272) with support from Building with Nature and EDB (JBE-project).

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Correspondence to P. A. Todd.

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Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Anastazia Banaszak

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Lai, S., Gillis, L.G., Mueller, C. et al. First experimental evidence of corals feeding on seagrass matter. Coral Reefs 32, 1061–1064 (2013).

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  • Seagrass
  • Coral heterotrophy
  • Habitat connectivity
  • Nutrient transfer