Varying foraging strategies of Labridae in seagrass habitats: Herbivory in temperate seagrass meadows?
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Natural Sciences
The diets of five species of Labridae in south-western Australia were examined to determine whether: (1) grazing of seagrass and epiphytic algae is a prominent feature of the food web within the deeper seagrass meadows of this temperate region; (2) levels of grazing differ among different seagrass systems; and diets differ among these closely-related species. Fish were collected seasonally from three seagrass habitats mainly comprising either Posidonia sinuosa, Posidonia coriacea or Amphibolis griffithii between the summer of 1996/97 and spring of 1997. Consumption of considerable amounts of algae and seagrass by Odax acroptilus and seagrass by Haletta semifasciata indicates that macrophyte grazing by fish is a component of the trophic dynamics of south-western Australian seagrass meadows. O. acroptilus and H. semifasciata were both omnivorous, feeding on a range of epifauna, infauna and flora, whereas Siphonognathus radiatus, Neoodax balteatus and Notolabrus parilus were carnivorous, feeding predominantly on motile epifauna, such as molluscs and crustaceans. The level of macrophyte grazing is likely to be underestimated in temperate offshore meadows of P. sinuosa and A. griffithii where omnivorous labrids, monacanthids and terapontids are abundant. Stable isotope data for O. acroptilus from the study region suggest that animal prey is more important to tissue maintenance than macrophyte material. Macrophytes may be grazed to acquire attached animal prey or for fulfilling energy requirements. Based on the distribution of prey, it appears that species in A. griffithii meadows forage within and below the seagrass canopy, whilst species in P. sinuosa meadows are likely to forage towards the basal area of this seagrass.