Diet shifts of Caribbean grunts (Haemulidae) and snappers (Lutjanidae) and the relation with nursery-to-coral reef migrations

E. Cocheret De La Morinière, B.J.A. Pollux, I. Nagelkerken, G. Van Der Velde*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

101 Citations (Scopus)


The spatial size distribution of grunts and snappers have previously indicated the separation of juveniles in nursery habitats from the adults on the coral reef. This implies life cycle migrations from nursery habitats (such as seagrass beds and mangroves) to the coral reef. If diet shifts are related to such migrations, then the diets of these fish must change before or around the fish size at which such migrations take place. A wide size range of juveniles of two grunt species (Haemulon sciurus and Haemulon flavolineatum) and of two snapper species (Lutjanus apodus and Ocyurus chrysurus) were caught in seagrass beds and mangroves, and their gut contents identified and quantified. Regression analysis between fish size and dietary importance of small crustaceans showed a negative relationship in all four species. Positive relations were found for H. sciurus, L. apodus and O. chrysurus between fish length and the dietary importance of decapods, and for L. apodus and O. chrysurus between fish length and prey fish importance. Critical changes in the fish diets with fish size were examined by application of a Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA). The CCA yielded three clusters of size-classes of fishes with similar diets, and application of a Mantel test showed that each of these clusters had significantly different diets, and that each cluster diet was significantly specialised. The size at which a fish species 'switched' from one cluster to another was compared with size-at-maturity data and with the typical size at which these species migrate from the nursery habitats to the coral reef. H. sciurus and H. flavolineatum may be prompted to migrate from the nursery habitats to coral reef habitats because of dietary changes, or because of the development of the gonads. For L. apodus and O. chrysurus, a dietary changeover forms a more likely explanation for nursery-to-reef migrations than does sexual maturation because these species reach maturity at sizes much larger than the maximum size of individuals found in nursery habitats. Although other factors may theoretically initiate or promote the migration patterns, the results of this study indicate that ontogenetic dietary changes may crucially influence the nursery-to-coral reef migrations of these reef fish species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1079-1089
Number of pages11
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Diet shifts
  • Nursery habitats
  • Nursery-to-reef migration


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