Zooplankton fecal pellets as the primary driver of settling particles in
Zooplankton fecal pellets are a potentially vital source of nutrients
for coral reefs. While zooplankton fecal pellets are recycled relatively
quickly in pelagic systems, the shallow nature of reefs means more
organic matter from the surface can reach the benthos. Fecal pellets can
aggregate together and entrain additional organic matter, aiding in the
transference of organic material to reefs. These settling particles can
be ingested by coral to supplement their diet and nutrients obtained by
their symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) as coral are known to ingest
sediment. Settling particles can provide essential fatty acids to coral
reefs such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
which are produced by phytoplankton and repackaged by zooplankton.
Through lipid and stable isotope analysis, zooplankton were determined
to be primary driver of settling particles in the Upper Florida Keys.
Zooplankton fecal pellets most likely help to create a homogenous
composition of organic material. As the primary drivers of settling
particle composition, zooplankton abundance and composition play a vital
role in determining the availability of organic matter and settling
particles on coral reefs.