Estimates of fish and coral larvae as nutrient subsidies to coral reef ecosystems.


Allgeier, J. E.Speare, K. E.Burkepile, D. E.




Nutrient subsidies are essential for the functioning of many ecosystems. A long-standing conundrum in coral reef ecology is how these systems can be among the most productive globally, but persist in nutrient-poor conditions. Here, we investigate the importance of the larvae of fishes and corals and gametes of corals as nutrient subsidies for coral reefs. We provide evidence that fish larvae may be an ecologically important source of exogenous nutrients. We found that at the high end of mean estimates of fish larval supply rates, larvae can replace the nutrients in the entire fish community (estimated from Caribbean coral reefs) in 28 and 434 d for nitrogen (N) and phosphorus, respectively. Coral larvae, on the other hand, appear to represent only a fraction of the nutrients supplied by the larval fish community. In contrast, coral gametes provide substantial pulses of recycled nutrients during synchronous spawning events. Within a single night, gametes from coral spawning events can produce nutrient fluxes that represent 13 and 64 times the amount of N and carbon, respectively, stored in coral reef fish communities. Our analysis suggests that larvae and/or gametes of fishes and corals may represent an important, but previously underappreciated, source of nutrients to coral reefs that warrant inclusion into models of nutrient dynamics and ecosystem function.







Research Areas: