Nutritional Basis of Butterflyfish Corallivory in the Red Sea

  • Jessica Masterman

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The overall goal of this study was to elucidate the relationship between coral nutrition and the observed prey preferences exhibited by corallivorous butterflyfishes. Fifteen species of coral (thirteen hard, two soft) and stomach/hindgut contents from six species of butterflyfish were analyzed in this study, all collected from the central Saudi Arabian Red Sea. All samples were analyzed for lipid, total-nitrogen (proxy for protein), and ash (proxy for minerals and when combined with lipid data, allows for calculation of carbohydrate). Unfortunately, substantial errors were encountered in the experimental lipid data, precluding the use of this data set. Using the value of (protein/ash) as a proxy for potential nutritional quality, it was determined that Pocillopora cf. verrucosa and P. damicornis have the highest nutritional quality, while Acropora hyacinthus and Stylophora pistillata have intermediate nutritional quality, and all remaining 11 species have low nutritional quality. This suggests that the high nutritional quality of Pocillopora damicornis and Acropora hyacinthus may be the cause of the well documented predator preferences for these two species. Fish gut content samples were, on average, twice as rich in protein and half as rich in minerals as the coral tissue samples, suggesting either selective consumption of especially rich parts of the coral colony, or consumption of other food sources (facultative corallivores). In all six butterflyfish species, stomach content samples were consistently richer in protein and poorer in mineral content than the hindgut content samples; this suggests significant and measureable uptake of protein in the butterflyfish digestion process.
Date of AwardDec 2012
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorMichael Berumen (Supervisor)


  • Butterflyfish
  • Corallivory
  • Red Sea
  • Chaetodontidae
  • Nutrition

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