Investigating the niche overlap of ecologically similar species can reveal the mechanisms that drive spatial partitioning in high-diversity systems. Understanding how food resources are used and whether the diets of neighboring species are different are particularly important when considering the coexistence and functional role of species. Territorial damselfish on coral reefs are considered to be herbivores that defend algal mats from other food competitors. However, this guild contains numerous small species whose functional role and dietary diversification is poorly understood. Here, the relationships between diet and spatial distribution of seven intermediate-sized territorial damselfishes at Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea (5°30′S, 150°05′E) were investigated. These species partition habitat across three reef zones with distinct patterns of fine-scale distribution. It was predicted that neighboring species partition food resources with minimal dietary overlap. Examination of isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen delineated three distinct feeding strategies: pelagic, reef-based, and an intermediate group feeding on both prey types. None of the species appear to be strict herbivores. Adjacent species exhibited high–intermediate trophic niche partitioning when examining pelagic versus reef-based production sources, with two species previously described as benthic herbivores exhibiting pelagic feeding. The study demonstrates that diet reinforces the patterns of spatial partitioning and coexistence among ecologically similar damselfishes. These findings add to a growing view that interspecific differences among similar species are lost when categorizing species into broad functional classifications, and that previous studies suggesting that territorial damselfish are strictly reef-based feeders may not be applicable in all systems or for all species.
Eurich, J. G.; Matley, J. K.; Baker, R.; McCormick, M. I.; and Jones, G. P., "Stable isotope analysis reveals trophic diversity and partitioning in territorial damselfishes on a low-latitude coral reef" (2019). School of Marine and Environmental Sciences Faculty and Staff Publications and Presentations. 10.