Protected nearshore shallow and deep subtidal rocky reef communities differ in their trophic diversity but not their nutritional condition

Published in: African Journal of Marine Science
Volume 41, issue 1, 2019 , pages: 103–114
DOI: 10.2989/1814232X.2019.1580614
Author(s): ER Heyns-VealeSouth African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), South Africa, NB RichouxDepartment of Zoology and Entomology, South Africa, ATF BernardSouth African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), South Africa, A GötzElwandle Node, South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), South Africa


Large physical changes that alter reef macrobenthos and fish assemblages occur with increasing depth, so the biological processes that regulate communities at different depths are expected to diverge. We used analyses of stable isotopes (δ13C and δ15N) and fatty acids to establish whether shallow (11–25 m) and deep (45–75 m) warm-temperate reef communities within a South African marine protected area differ in their trophic organisation and nutritional condition. We found evidence of enhanced nutritional condition in plankton from the deeper reef as compared with the shallow reef based on the essential fatty acid content, but this effect was generally not observed in the macrobenthos or the fish communities. Community-based indices derived from the stable isotope data indicated that the shallow-reef community had significantly greater niche diversification (greater diversity of carbon sources at the base of the food web) and more niche space occupied than the deep-reef community. One obvious difference in available carbon sources between reef communities was the absence of benthic primary production on the deep reef, where light is limiting. Our results highlight that the decreased trophic diversity, and to an extent functional redundancy, associated with the simplification of food webs at depth may translate into greater vulnerability of deep reefs to disturbance.

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