Evidence for trophic niche partitioning among three temperate gorgonian octocorals
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Evidence for trophic niche partitioning among three temperate gorgonian octocorals

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  • Journal Title:
    Coral Reefs
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    Trophic niche theory predicts that species in competition for a limiting resource will evolve adaptations allowing them to consume alternative resources and occupy new niche space. Trophic niche partitioning is often identified by differences in the morphology of feeding structures across species; however, these differences may not always be readily observable. Due to their constrained polyp morphology, octocorals are often viewed a single functional group that contributes to benthic-pelagic coupling by feeding opportunistically on available particles. To test the hypothesis that sympatric gorgonians share the same trophic niche, feeding selectivity of three gorgonian species (Leptogorgia virgulata, Muricea pendula,andThesea nivea)was compared using a combination of flume experiments and stable isotope analysis. The tentacle length and polyp surface area ofL. virgulataandT. niveawere also measured and compared. In flume experiments, clearance of rotifers (“typical” zooplankton) and a mixture of cultured phytoplankton indicated thatL. virgulataandT. niveafed on zooplankton and not phytoplankton. Stable isotope values for all three species are consistent with distinct trophic niches, withM. pendulaoccupying a lower trophic level.Thesea niveawas found to have significantly larger polyp surface area and tentacle length; however, this did not appear to explain observed trophic differences. The results of this study provide evidence for niche partitioning, but future work is required to better understand the mechanism behind this divergence.
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    Coral Reefs, 41(4), 907-920
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    CC BY
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