Using Molecular Power to Reconstruct Hyperdiverse Food Webs

Post provided by JORDAN CASEY

Coral Reefs: The Ocean’s Most Extravagant Buffet

Coral reefs are home to an incredibly diverse array of species ©Jordan Casey

Coral reefs are home to an incredibly diverse array of species ©Jordan Casey

There are an estimated 830,000 species on coral reefs worldwide. At some stage in their lives, nearly all of these species are consumed as prey items. In this super diverse buffet of fishes, corals, crabs, worms, and other critters, the number of possible interactions between predators and prey is nearly inexhaustible.

The extreme diversity of coral reefs has fascinated naturalists for centuries. Pinpointing predator-prey dynamics is essential to fully understand coral reef ecosystem dynamics, and visual analysis of gut contents has been a staple technique of coral reef ecologists. While the joy of spending copious hours looking through a microscope at half-digested marine mush is undeniable, this type of visual inspection has limitations. Even so, visual gut content analysis (along with stable isotope analysis and behavioural observations) has showcased a highly complex dietary network.

To digest this extreme complexity and surmount the hurdle of dietary unknowns, researchers frequently lump fishes into broad trophic categories, such as ‘mobile herbivores’. Broad generalisations are pragmatic and may be help us detect broad ecological trends, but they oversimplify species’ actual dietary preferences. As coral reefs are changing due to anthropogenic disturbances, it’s critical to thoroughly examine how well trophic groupings capture dietary linkages among reef organisms. Continue reading