MEPS 256:183-191 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps256183

The role of cryptobenthic reef fishes in coral reef trophodynamics

Martial Depczynski*, David R. Bellwood

Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity, Department of Marine Biology, James Cook University, Townsville 4811, Australia

ABSTRACT: An examination of the trophic status of a cryptobenthic reef fish community from the central Great Barrier Reef was carried out to evaluate the potential role of cryptobenthic fishes in coral reef ecosystems. Using frequency of occurrence data, dietary analyses revealed a diverse range of trophic groups, although detritivory (in 10 out of 16 species and 39.3% of individuals) and carnivory (5 of 16 species and 40.5% of individuals) clearly dominate as trophic modes. Herbivory (1 species; 2.4% of individuals) is only a minor component in the community trophic structure. Of the 18 dietary categories identified, detritus and copepods were the only constituents represented in all 16 species examined. Although the degree of dietary specialization varied among taxa, the 2 most abundant species, Eviota queenslandica and Istigobius goldmanni, utilised the broadest range of dietary items. Morphology reflected the trophic partitioning among fishes: carnivores were invariably <28 mm total length (TL) and had gut-length ratios (GLRs) of <0.5; detritivores were all >38 mm TL with GLRs generally exceeding >1.0. The trophic composition and numerical strength of the cryptobenthic fish fauna suggests that cryptobenthic reef fishes have the potential to make a significant contribution to reef trophodynamics along a number of trophic pathways. This prompts a re evaluation of the roles of reef fishes in the functioning of coral reefs, particularly those related to the recycling of primary production through detrital pathways.

KEY WORDS: Detritus · Trophic · Detritivory · Herbivory · Diet · Gobiidae · Assemblages · Ecosystem function

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