High complexity food webs in low-diversity eastern Pacific reef-coral communities

Peter W. Glynn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Community-wide feeding interrelationships in a low-diversity coral reef off the Pacific coast of Panamá (Uva Island reef) demonstrate complex pathways involving herbivore, strong corallivore, and carnivore interactions. Four trophic levels with 31 interguild links are identified in a generalized food web, and documented feeding interrelationships with 287+ species links are portrayed in a coral-corallivore subweb. The importance of trophic groups changes greatly with time, from unknown causes over annual to decadal-scale periods, and during very strong El Niño-Southern Oscillation events such that intermittent intense herbivory by echinoids (Diadema) and corallivory by gastropod mollusks, the crown-of-thorns sea star Acanthaster, hermit crabs, and fishes result in high levels of coral mortality and bioerosion of reef substratum. Intraregional differences in species composition and abundances affecting food-web interactions are briefly described for nonupwelling (Uva Island) and upwelling areas (Pearl Islands) in Panamá. Seasonal upwelling in the Pearl Islands results in high plankton productivity, which likely augments production in invertebrates, fishes, marine mammals, and seabirds, but these pathways still remain largely unquantified. The corallivore Acanthaster is absent from upwelling centers in Panamá and from upwelling and nonupwelling areas in the southern and central Galápagos Islands, and the highly destructive, facultative corallivore Eucidaris galapagensis occurs only in the latter offshore islands and at Cocos Island. Relatively recent declines in the abundances of manta rays, sharks, and spiny lobsters are correlated with, but not necessarily causally linked to, increasing fishing activities in the late 1970s to early 1980s. The extent to which the complex yet highly unstable Uva Island food web is representative of other eastern Pacific coral reef ecosystems remains to be investigated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)358-367
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2004


  • Coral reef
  • Eastern Pacific
  • Food web
  • Panamá

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'High complexity food webs in low-diversity eastern Pacific reef-coral communities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this