Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Summary Many coral-reef seaweeds and sessile invertebrates produce both secondary chemicals and mineral or fibrous skeletal materials that can reduce their susceptibility to consumers. Although skeletal materials often have been assumed to function as physical defenses, their deterrent effectiveness may derive from their reduction of prey nutritional quality as well as from noxiousness of the skeletal material itself. To test the relative importance of prey nutritional quality and chemical defenses in susceptibility to predation, we offered reef fishes on Guam a choice of artificial foods varying in nutritional quality (4% versus 22% protein) and in secondary chemistry (spanning approximately natural concentration ranges). Field feeding assays were performed with pachydictyol A from the pantropical brown seaweed genus Dictyota, manoalide from the Micronesian sponge Luffariella variabilis, and a brominated diphenyl ether from the Micronesian sponge Dysidea sp. The results indicated that chemical defenses were less effective in high- than in low-quality foods. In paired assays with metabolite-free controls, all three compounds at natural concentrations significantly reduced feeding by reef fishes only in assays using low-quality food, and not in assays with high-quality food. When fishes were offered an array of artificial foods varying in both food quality and metabolite concentration, food quality significantly affected fish feeding in all three cases, while secondary chemistry was significant in only one. Thus differences in nutritional quality, within the natural range among reef organisms, can be comparable to or greater in importance than secondary chemistry in affecting feeding preferences of their consumers. Reduced nutritional quality may be an important selective advantage of producing indigestible structural materials, in addition to their roles as physical support and defense, in coral reef organisms.
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