Articles | Volume 13, issue 20
Research article
21 Oct 2016
Research article |  | 21 Oct 2016

Food selectivity and processing by the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa

Dick van Oevelen, Christina E. Mueller, Tomas Lundälv, and Jack J. Middelburg

Abstract. Cold-water corals form prominent reef ecosystems along ocean margins that depend on suspended resources produced in surface waters. In this study, we investigated food processing of 13C and 15N labelled bacteria and algae by the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa. Coral respiration, tissue incorporation of C and N and metabolically derived C incorporation into the skeleton were traced following the additions of different food concentrations (100, 300, 1300 µg C L−1) and two ratios of suspended bacterial and algal biomass (1 : 1, 3 : 1). Respiration and tissue incorporation by L. pertusa increased markedly following exposure to higher food concentrations. The net growth efficiency of L. pertusa was low (0.08 ± 0.03), which is consistent with its slow growth rate. The contribution of algae and bacteria to total coral assimilation was proportional to the food mixture in the two lowest food concentrations, but algae were preferred over bacteria as a food source at the highest food concentration. Similarly, the stoichiometric uptake of C and N was coupled in the low and medium food treatment, but was uncoupled in the high food treatment and indicated a comparatively higher uptake or retention of bacterial carbon as compared to algal nitrogen. We argue that behavioural responses for these small-sized food particles, such as tentacle behaviour, mucus trapping and physiological processing, are more likely to explain the observed food selectivity as compared to physical–mechanical considerations. A comparison of the experimental food conditions to natural organic carbon concentrations above CWC reefs suggests that L. pertusa is well adapted to exploit temporal pulses of high organic matter concentrations in the bottom water caused by internal waves and downwelling events.

Short summary
Cold-water corals form true hotspots of biodiversity in the cold and dark deep sea, but need to live off of only small amounts of food that reach the deep sea. Using chemical tracers, this study investigated whether cold-water corals are picky eaters. We found that under low food conditions, they do not differentiate between food sources but they do differentiate at high food concentrations. This adaptation suggests that they are well adapted to exploit short food pulses efficiently.
Final-revised paper