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Trophic distribution of nutrient production in coral reef fisheries

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article number20231601
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>4/10/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number2008
Number of pages10
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Coral reef fisheries supply nutritious catch to tropical coastal communities, where the quality of reef seafood is determined by both the rate of biomass production and nutritional value of reef fishes. Yet our understanding of reef fisheries typically uses targets of total reef fish biomass rather than individual growth (i.e. biomass production) and nutrient content (i.e. nutritional value of reef fish), limiting the ability of management to sustain the productivity of nutritious catches. Here, we use modelled growth coefficients and nutrient concentrations to develop a new metric of nutrient productivity of coral reef fishes. We then evaluate this metric with underwater visual surveys of reef fish assemblages from four tropical countries to examine nutrient productivity of reef fish food webs. Species' growth coefficients were associated with nutrients that vary with body size (calcium, iron, selenium and zinc), but not total nutrient density. When integrated with fish abundance data, we find that herbivorous species typically dominate standing biomass, biomass turnover and nutrient production on coral reefs. Such bottom-heavy trophic distributions of nutrients were consistent across gradients of fishing pressure and benthic composition. We conclude that management restrictions that promote sustainability of herbivores and other low trophic-level species can sustain biomass and nutrient production from reef fisheries that is critical to the food security of over 500 million people in the tropics.