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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 368:155-164 (2008)  -  DOI:

Interlinkage between Caribbean coral reefs and seagrass beds through feeding migrations by grunts (Haemulidae) depends on habitat accessibility

I. Nagelkerken1,*, J. Bothwell2, R. S. Nemeth3, J. M. Pitt4, G. van der Velde1,5

1Department of Animal Ecology and Ecophysiology, Institute for Wetland and Water Research, Faculty of Science, Radboud University Nijmegen, Heyendaalseweg 135, PO Box 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen, The Netherlands
2Cayman Islands Department of Environment, PO Box 486, Grand Cayman KY1-1106, Cayman Islands
3Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, University of the Virgin Islands, 2 John Brewers Bay, St. Thomas 00802-9990, US Virgin Islands
4Marine Environmental Program, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, 17 Biological Lane, Ferry Reach, St. George’s GE 01, Bermuda
5National Museum of Natural History, Naturalis, PO Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands

ABSTRACT: Tropical marine habitats are often energetically linked through feeding migrations by fish. A widely accepted assumption is that species of Haemulidae (grunts) undertake nocturnal feeding migrations from coral reefs to seagrass beds. This has been based on studies investigating migrations between small patch reefs and surrounding seagrass beds located in lagoons. Due to the size and location of these patch reefs, we argue that this does not represent migration from coral reef to seagrass ecosystems, and a literature search shows limited proof for such migration. We hypothesised that the spatial arrangement of these habitats in the seascape may have profound effects on the degree to which such migrations occur. Haemulon flavolineatum caught from seagrass beds located in semi-enclosed embayments, and thus isolated to a high degree from adjacent reefs, showed a diet and stable isotope signature of muscle tissue that differed from those collected from the coral reef. In contrast, fishes from open seagrass systems without restricted access from the reef showed the same stable isotope signature as those collected from the coral reef, suggesting feeding from the same habitat, viz. the seagrass beds. Additional visual census data showed that semi-enclosed seagrass beds did not have elevated densities of large-sized fish at night, which would be expected if large individuals from the reef migrated to the seagrass beds to feed. The data thus show that interlinkages between coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs and seagrass beds, by fishes may strongly depend on the spatial arrangement of habitats within the seascape.

KEY WORDS: Haemulon flavolineatum · Coral reef · Seagrass · Feeding migrations · Habitat linkages · Stable isotopes · Diet analysis

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Cite this article as: Nagelkerken I, Bothwell J, Nemeth RS, Pitt JM, van der Velde G (2008) Interlinkage between Caribbean coral reefs and seagrass beds through feeding migrations by grunts (Haemulidae) depends on habitat accessibility. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 368:155-164.

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