Spatial patterns of epilithic algal and detrital resources on a windward coral reef

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Purcell, SW & Bellwood, D 2001, 'Spatial patterns of epilithic algal and detrital resources on a windward coral reef', Coral Reefs, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 117-125.

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Algae and detritus co-occur on reef substrata, but their relative importance to consumers, in terms of biomass and nutrient content, is poorly understood. Epilithic algae, sediment and detritus were sampled among four windward zones at Lizard Island, Australia, using a vacuum sampler. Total N, P and biomass (total organic C) were quantified for algae and detritus. Algal and detrital biomass varied among zones and both were positively correlated with sediment load. Algal biomass was approximately six times higher than detritus on the reef crest. In other zones, the two components were more similar in abundance. Particulates on the reef crest had the highest organic:inorganic ratios, a feature likely to be favoured by herbivorous and detritivorous fishes. C:N ratios of algae and detritus, while locally variable, were broadly comparable among zones. C:P ratios of both components decreased in leeward zones. Although locally variable, detritus had a higher content of both N and P. Overall, detritus is relatively abundant on windward reef substrata and of equal or greater nutritional quality than algae. It represents a potentially important resource for both detritivorous and herbivorous fishes.