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Fish stable-isotope community structure of a Bahamian coral reef

Lookup NU author(s): Yiou Zhu, Dr Steven Newman, Dr William Reid, Professor Nick Polunin



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Stable isotopes have provided important insight into the trophic structure and interaction in many ecosystems but to date have scarcely been applied to the complex food webs of coral reefs. We sampled white muscle tissues from the fish species composing 80% of the biomass in the 4-512 g body mass range at Cape Eleuthera (the Bahamas) in order to examine isotopic niches characterised by δ13C and δ15N data and explore whether fish body size is a driver of trophic position based on δ15N. We found the planktivore isotopic niche was distinct from those of the other trophic guilds suggesting the unique isotopic baseline of pelagic production sources. Other trophic guilds showed some level of overlap among them especially in the δ13C value which is attributable to source-omnivory. Surprising features of the isotopic niches included the benthivore Halichoeres pictus, herbivores Acanthurus coeruleus and Coryphopterus personatus and omnivore Thalassoma bifasciatum being close to the planktivore guild, while the piscivore Aulostomus maculatus came within the omnivore and herbivore ellipses. These characterisations contradicted the simple trophic categories normally assigned to these species. δ15N tended to increase with body mass in most species, and at community level, the linear δ15N-log2 body mass relationship pointing to a mean predator-prey mass ratio of 1047:1 and a relatively long food-chain compared with studies in other aquatic systems. This first demonstration of a positive δ15N-body mass relationship in a coral-reef fish community suggested that the Cape Eleuthera coral-reef food-web was likely supported by one main pathway and bigger reef-fishes tended to feed at higher trophic Coral reef fishes, size spectra, trophic structure, predator-prey relationshipposition. Such finding is similar to other marine ecosystems (e.g. North Sea).

Publication metadata

Author(s): Zhu Y, Newman SP, Reid WDK, Polunin NVC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Marine Biology

Year: 2019

Volume: 166

Issue: 12

Print publication date: 01/12/2019

Online publication date: 11/11/2019

Acceptance date: 26/09/2019

Date deposited: 27/09/2019

ISSN (print): 0025-3162

ISSN (electronic): 1432-1793

Publisher: Springer Berlin Heidelberg


DOI: 10.1007/s00227-019-3599-9


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