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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 540:227-234 (2015)  -  DOI:

Effect of marine protected areas (MPAs) on consumer diet: MPA fish feed higher in the food chain

Claire Dell, Joseph P. Montoya, Mark E. Hay*

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, 950 Atlantic Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Marine protected areas (MPAs) are often established to mitigate the effects of overfishing and other human disturbances. In Fiji, these are locally managed and, where enforced, have significantly higher coral cover, higher fish biomass, and lower seaweed cover than the adjacent unprotected reefs (non-MPAs). We investigated how the isotopic signatures of a common mid-level consumer, Epinephelus merra, differed among 3 small (0.5 to 0.8 km2) MPAs versus adjacent unprotected reefs. Isotopic ratios suggested that the fish in the MPAs fed higher in the food chain than those in the adjacent non-MPAs, despite being slightly smaller. Calculations using a brown alga as representative of the basal level of the food chain estimate this difference to be about half a trophic level. Thus, the isotopic ratio of a mid-level consumer can be noticeably altered over scales of only a few hundred meters. This may result from more complete food webs and hence greater prey choice and availability in the MPAs and implies that MPAs affect not only species’ abundance and diversity but also diet composition and trophic biology of member individuals. Our findings suggest that E. merra exhibits considerable site fidelity in its feeding biology and thus provides a localized isotopic signal of its reef of residence. If the isotopic signal of this mid-level carnivore is reflective of the composition of the food web beneath it, the signal might provide an easily obtained indication of reef conditions in that area.

KEY WORDS: Nitrogen · Carbon · Isotope · Grouper · Turbinaria conoides · Trophic position · Phaeophyte

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Cite this article as: Dell C, Montoya JP, Hay ME (2015) Effect of marine protected areas (MPAs) on consumer diet: MPA fish feed higher in the food chain. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 540:227-234.

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