Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Feeding preferences of herbivores in a relatively pristine subtropical seagrass ecosystem

Derek A. Burkholder A C , Michael R. Heithaus A and James W. Fourqurean A B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Biological Sciences, Marine Program, Florida International University, Biscayne Bay Campus, North Miami, FL 33181, USA.

B Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email: derek.burkholder@fiu.edu

Marine and Freshwater Research 63(11) 1051-1058 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF12029
Submitted: 31 January 2012  Accepted: 1 August 2012   Published: 26 November 2012

Abstract

Understanding forage choice of herbivores is important for predicting the potential impacts of changes in their abundance. Such studies, however, are rare in ecosystems with intact populations of both megagrazers (sirenians, sea turtles) and fish grazers. We used feeding assays and nutrient analyses of seagrasses to determine whether forage choice of grazers in Shark Bay, Australia, are influenced by the quality of seagrasses. We found significant interspecific variation in removal rates of seagrasses across three habitats (shallow seagrass bank interior, shallow seagrass bank edge, deep), but we did not detect variation in gazing intensity among habitats. In general, grazers were more likely to consume fast-growing species with lower carbon : nitrogen (C : N) and carbon : phosphorus (C : P) ratios, than the slower-growing species that are dominant in the bay. Grazer choices were not, however, correlated with nutrient content within the tropical seagrasses. Slow-growing temperate seagrasses that experienced lower herbivory provide greater habitat value as a refuge for fishes and may facilitate fish grazing on tropical species. Further studies are needed, however, to more fully resolve the factors influencing grazer foraging preferences and the possibility that grazers mediate indirect interactions among seagrass species.

Additional keywords : Amphibolis, Cymodocea, diet selection, dugong, food choice, green turtle, Halodule, Halophila, Pelates, Posidonia.


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