I’ve been compiling data for a Caribbean coral reef food web. This is intended to be a “typical” coral reef of the Greater Antilles region, focusing on Jamaica. Data are drawn, however, from a more general region encompassing the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S.V.I. were included because of the large amount of data available for the reefs there, particularly fish. It has been a rather large task to assemble species lists for this region because of the tremendous species richness of the reefs, as well as the scattered nature of the literature. Most major animal groups have been included, with notable exceptions being barnacles, sea stars, and some minor but probably important groups, such as sipuncula, echiura, crinoids and brachiopods. All major producer groups are also specified at the species level, including nannoplankton, diatoms, macroalgae, etc. The community comprises the reef habitat and adjoining seagrass beds.
The current compilation includes a total of 905 species, for which trophic data are available for 761 (84%). The 761 species are further collapsed into 265 guilds. Guilds range in size from 1 species up to 54 species (symbiont-bearing scleractinian corals). There are 4756 links among guilds, yielding a guild-based connectance of 0.068, well within the range of connectances for published, lower resolution communities. That’s a lot of stuff happening on the reef! It is surprising to realize, though, how little we know about many familiar species, or perhaps how poorly documented that knowledge is. The situation would be far worse if I accounted to the true diversity of the reef, which must range into several thousand species. One can only imagine the difficulties in attempting this with an Indo-Pacific reef or a tropical rain forest. Sadly, the current condition of many Caribbean reefs means that my compilation is an overestimate, being based on accounts dating back to the 1950′s, when the reefs were still in reasonably good shape, by 20th century standards anyway.