Energy flow to two abundant consumers in a subtropical oyster reef food web

Research paper by Lauren A. Yeager, Craig A. Layman

Indexed on: 23 Feb '11Published on: 23 Feb '11Published in: Aquatic Ecology


Oyster reefs are among the most threatened coastal habitat types, but still provide critical habitat and food resources for many estuarine species. The structure of oyster reef food webs is an important framework from which to examine the role of these reefs in supporting high densities of associated fishes. We identified major trophic pathways to two abundant consumers, gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus) and crested goby (Lophogobius cyprinoides), from a subtropical oyster reef using stomach content and stable isotope analysis. The diet of gray snapper was dominated by crabs, with shrimp and fishes also important. Juvenile gray snapper fed almost entirely on oyster reef-associated prey items, while subadults fed on both oyster reef- and mangrove-associated prey. Based on trophic guilds of the gray snapper prey, as well as relative δ13C values, microphytobenthos is the most likely basal resource pool supporting gray snapper production on oyster reefs. Crested goby had omnivorous diets dominated by bivalves, small crabs, detritus, and algae, and thus were able to take advantage of prey relying on production from sestonic, as well as microphytobenthos, source pools. In this way, crested goby represent a critical link of sestonic production to higher trophic levels. These results highlight major trophic pathways supporting secondary production in oyster reef habitat, thereby elucidating the feeding relationships that render oyster reef critical habitat for many ecologically and economically important fish species.