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Seabirds supply nitrogen to reefbuilding corals on remote Pacific islets

Abstract : Seabirds concentrate nutrients from large marine areas on their nesting islands playing an important ecological role in nutrient transfer between marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Here we investigate the role of guano on corals reefs across scales by analyzing the stable nitrogen isotopic (δ15N) values of the scleractinian coral Pocillopora damicornis on fringing reefs around two Pacific remote islets with large seabird colonies. Marine stations closest to the seabird colonies had higher nitrate + nitrite concentrations compared to more distant stations. Coral and zooxanthellae δ15N values were also higher at these sites, suggesting that guano-derived nitrogen is assimilated into corals and contributes to their nitrogen requirements. The spatial extent of guano influence was however restricted to a local scale. Our results demonstrate that seabird-derived nutrients not only spread across the terrestrial ecosystem, but also affect components of the adjacent marine ecosystem. Further studies are now needed to assess if this nutrient input has a positive or negative effect for corals. Such studies on remote islets also open fresh perspectives to understand how nutrients affect coral reefs isolated from other anthropogenic stressors.
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Anne Lorrain, Fanny Houlbreque, Francesca Benzoni, Lucie Barjon, Laura Tremblay-Boyer, et al.. Seabirds supply nitrogen to reefbuilding corals on remote Pacific islets. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2017, 7 (1), pp.3721. ⟨10.1038/s41598-017-03781-y⟩. ⟨hal-01681575⟩

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