Prevalence of pelagic dependence among coral reef predators across an atoll seascape


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Abstract

Coral reef food webs are complex, vary spatially and remain poorly understood. Certain large predators, notably sharks, are subsidized by pelagic production on outer reef slopes, but how widespread this dependence is across all teleost fishery target species and within atolls is unclear.North Malé Atoll (Maldives) includes oceanic barrier as well as lagoonal reefs. Nine fishery target predators constituting ca. 55% of the local fishery target species biomass at assumed trophic levels 3–5 were selected for analysis. Data were derived from carbon (δ13C), nitrogen (δ15N) and sulphur (δ34S) stable isotopes from predator white dorsal muscle samples, and primary consumer species representing production source end-members.Three-source Bayesian stable isotope mixing models showed that uptake of pelagic production extends throughout the atoll, with predatory fishes showing equal planktonic reliance between inner and outer edge reefs. Median plankton contribution was 65%–80% for all groupers and 68%–88% for an emperor, a jack and snappers.Lagoonal and atoll edge predators are equally at risk from anthropogenic and climate-induced changes, which may impact the linkages they construct, highlighting the need for management plans that transcend the boundaries of this threatened ecosystem.

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