Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Offshore pelagic subsidies dominate carbon inputs to coral reef predators

Lookup NU author(s): Christina Skinner, Professor Aileen MillORCiD, Dr Steven Newman, Dr Mike Zhu, Professor Nick Polunin



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


Coral reefs were traditionally perceived as productive hotspots in oligotrophic waters. While modern evidence indicates that many coral reef food webs are heavily subsidized by planktonic production, the pathways through which this occurs remain unresolved. We used the analytical power of carbon isotope analysis of essential amino acids to distinguish between alternative carbon pathways and supporting four key reef predators across an oceanic atoll. This technique separates benthic vs planktonic inputs, further identifying two distinct planktonic pathways (nearshore reef-associated plankton and offshore pelagic plankton), and revealing that these reef predators are overwhelmingly sustained by offshore pelagic sources rather than by reef sources (including reef-associated plankton). Notably, pelagic reliance did not vary between species or reef habitats, emphasizing that allochthonous energetic subsidies may have system-wide importance. These results help explain how coral reefs maintain exceptional productivity in apparently nutrient-poor 36 tropical settings, but also emphasize their susceptibility to future ocean productivity fluctuations.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Skinner C, Mill AC, Fox MD, Newman SP, Zhu Y, Kuhl A, Polunin NVC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Science Advances

Year: 2021

Volume: 7

Issue: 8

Online publication date: 19/02/2021

Acceptance date: 04/01/2021

Date deposited: 20/08/2021

ISSN (electronic): 2375-2548

Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science

URL: .https:/

DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf3792


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric


Funder referenceFunder name