Tracing carbon flow through coral reef food webs using a compound-specific stable isotope approach
McMahon, Kelton W.
Thorrold, Simon R.
Houghton, Leah A.
Berumen, Michael L.
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Coral reefs support spectacularly productive and diverse communities in tropical and sub26 tropical waters throughout the world’s oceans. Debate continues, however, on the degree to which reef biomass is supported by new water column production, benthic primary production, and recycled detrital carbon. We coupled compound-specific δ13C analyses with Bayesian mixing models to quantify carbon flow from primary producers to coral reef fishes across multiple feeding guilds and trophic positions in the Red Sea. Analyses of reef fishes with putative diets composed primarily of zooplankton (Amblyglyphidodon indicus), benthic macroalgae (Stegastes nigricans), reef-associated detritus (Ctenochaetus striatus), and coral tissue (Chaetodon trifascialis) confirmed that δ13C values of essential amino acids from all baseline carbon sources were both isotopically diagnostic and accurately recorded in consumer tissues. While all four source end-members contributed to the production of coral reef fishes in our study, a single source end-member often dominated dietary carbon assimilation of a given species, even for highly mobile, generalist top predators. Microbially-reworked detritus was an important secondary carbon source for most species. Seascape configuration played an important role in structuring resource utilization patterns. For instance, L. ehrenbergii, showed a significant shift from a benthic macroalgal food web on shelf reefs (71 ± 13% of dietary carbon) to a phytoplankton-based food web (72 ± 11%) on oceanic reefs. Our work provides insights into the roles that diverse carbon sources play in the structure and function of coral reef ecosystems and illustrates a powerful fingerprinting method to develop and test nutritional frameworks for understanding resource utilization.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2015. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Springer for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Oecologia 180 (2016): 809-821, doi:10.1007/s00442-015-3475-3.