Corals are the structural foundation of reefs, but surprisingly little is understood about the importance of corals in the reef food web. One poorly-studied link is the ecological guild of corallivores. This primarily consists of butterflyfishes, parrotfishes, triggerfishes, and a few species from other familes. Butterflyfishes are of particular interest due to the fact that most species in the family depend (to varying degrees) on live tissue of corals as a food source. Given the hundreds of species of corals found on reefs, it is not surprising that some corals are “healthier” than others when consumed by butterflyfishes. We are investigated which nutritional qualities of corals are most important to corallivores and we are explored what drives the feeding selectivity of these fishes. This involved field observations of feeding behaviors and coral communities, assessing growth rates of fishes given different food sources (especially juveniles), analysis of coral tissues for nutritional content.
Our previous work on these topics includes:
- Red Sea, Saudi Arabia, with several species of butterflyfishes and parrotfishes
- Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia, with numerous species of butterflyfishes (including experimental feeding in aquaria)
- Carrie Bow Cay, Belize, with several species of butterflyfishes and parrotfishes