Redefining the trophic importance of seagrasses for fauna in tropical Indo-Pacific meadows

Jan Arie Vonk*, Marjolijn J.A. Christianen, Johan Stapel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Fauna species living in seagrass meadows depend on different food sources, with seagrasses often being marginally important for higher trophic levels. To determine the food web of a mixed-species tropical seagrass meadow in Sulawesi, Indonesia, we analyzed the stable isotope (δ13C and δ15N) signatures of primary producers, particulate organic matter (POM) and fauna species. In addition invertebrates, both infauna and macrobenthic, and fish densities were examined to identify the important species in the meadow. The aims of this study were to identify the main food sources of fauna species by comparing isotopic signatures of different primary producers and fauna, and to estimate qualitatively the importance of seagrass material in the food web. Phytoplankton and water column POM were the most depleted primary food sources for δ13C (range -23.1 to -19.6‰), but no fauna species depended only on these sources for carbon. Epiphytes and Sargassum sp. had intermediate δ13C values (-14.2 to -11.9‰). Sea urchins, gastropods and certain fish species were the main species assimilating this material. Seagrasses and sedimentary POM had the least depleted values (-11.5 to -5.7‰). Between the five seagrass species significant differences in δ13C were measured. The small species Halophila ovalis and Halodule uninervis were most depleted, the largest species Enhalus acoroides was least depleted, while Thalassia hemprichii and Cymodocea rotundata had intermediate values. Fourteen fauna species, accounting for ∼10% of the total fauna density, were shown to assimilate predominantly (>50%) seagrass material, either directly or indirectly by feeding on seagrass consumers. These species ranged from amphipods up to the benthic top predator Taeniura lymma. Besides these species, about half of the 55 fauna species analyzed had δ13C values higher than the least depleted non-seagrass source, indicating they depended at least partly for their food on seagrass material. This study shows that seagrass material is consumed by a large number of fauna species and is important for a large portion of the food web in tropical seagrass meadows.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-660
Number of pages8
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • food webs
  • Indonesia
  • isotopes
  • seagrass
  • trophic relationships


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