Differences in feeding ecology among three co-occurring species of wrasse (Teleostei: Labridae) on rocky reefs of temperate Australia

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Journal Article
Marine Biology, 2008, 154 (3), pp. 577 - 592
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The foraging behaviours and dietary compositions of three co-occurring labrids (Ophthalmolepis lineolatus, Notolabrus gymnogenis and Pictilabrus laticlavius), which are conspicuous on rocky reefs in temperate south-eastern Australia, were investigated between 2003 and 2005. SCUBA observations at two locations showed that the feeding intensity, and hence the associated effects of these fishes on rocky reef invertebrate prey, was temporally consistent. Relative differences in the contributions of ingested prey and use of different feeding microhabitats demonstrated that the feeding ecology differed significantly among the three species. Thus, O. lineolatus fed on proportionately higher volumes of polychaetes, polyplacophorans, marginellid gastropods (especially Austroginella sp.), bivalves and echinoids, which were sighted opportunistically in a wide selection of microhabitats, but particularly in sand/rubble. Ambush hunting was used regularly by smaller N. gymnogenis and all sizes of P. laticlavius to forage on amphipods, small decapods and small gastropods at algal bases or fronds and Diopatra dentata tubes. Amphipods were similarly important in the diet of smaller O. lineolatus. Larger N. gymnogenis foraged opportunistically over an increased reef area and made greater use of microhabitats that offered minimal prey refuge (e.g. sand/rubble, bare rock/steel) from which common prey, in particular decapods, were obtained. The significant intra- and inter-specific differences in dietary compositions, allied with differences in the use of feeding microhabitats, would facilitate co-occurrence of these three conspicuous species and contribute to maintaining high richness of labrid species in reef systems. Echinoids were regularly consumed by each species but they made a moderate contribution to the diet of only O. lineolatus, which suggests that only one of the three labrids is likely to play a significant role in regulation of echinoid densities in these rocky reef habitats. However, the broad diets and diverse forging strategies employed by these labrid species imply that they have a system-wide influence on invertebrate prey on rocky reefs. © 2008 Springer-Verlag.
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