Nutritional ecology of marine herbivorous fishes: ten years on

Functional Ecology, volume 23, issue 1, 2009
Marine herbivorous fishes are considered to be of critical importance in determining the biological structure of shallow reef environments, and by implication have key roles in carbon flux in reef ecosystems.
Despite this, the nutritional processes that underpin these critical ecological roles have received comparatively little attention.
An overview is given of recent progress in the nutritional ecology of marine herbivorous fishes, and two recent paradigms that are considered important in the development of the field are examined. (I) the role of temperature in latitudinal gradients of diversity and abundance, and (II) the impact of these fishes on coral reefs. The aim is to illustrate how an integrative nutritional ecology approach can enrich insights gained from studies of fish herbivory, and to emphasize the distinctive differences between herbivory in marine and terrestrial systems.
It is argued that much of the work on trophic biology in marine herbivorous fishes has focused on the ecological impacts of fishes on reefs, the deterrent properties of marine algae, and the morphological and mechanical aspects of ingestion. This has come at the expense of two of the elements necessary for an integrative understanding of feeding ecology, that is, food composition and the physiological processes involved in nutrient extraction and utilization. Together, these factors have hindered the development of the nutritional framework for analysing food resources, feeding patterns and evolutionary trends that has proved successful for terrestrial vertebrate herbivores.
The reef grazing and algal secondary metabolite paradigms, while both extremely productive, have failed to develop the clear predictive framework for diet choice required in broader contexts such as reef management and understanding the evolution of herbivory. The lack of a focus on nutritional factors has led to premature conclusions on the influence of temperature on algal digestion, both at the level of digestive processes and the biogeography of marine faunas.
Some marine herbivorous fishes appear to be bending the 'rules' of hindgut fermentation, especially with respect to temperature and fermentation substrates, and so the study of nutritional ecology in these animals has potential to generate novel insights for the field of vertebrate nutrition in general.

Title: Nutritional ecology of marine herbivorous fishes: ten years on

Authors: Kendall D. Clement, David Raubenheimer and J. Howard Choat