If the various fish species living in an ecosystem are known, along with the body size of the fish, models can predict how chemical nutrients are transferred by fish, showed Associate Professor Craig Layman and colleagues.
"The findings suggest that body size and taxonomic identity are the most important factors to predict the amount of nutrients that fish recycle to the environment," Mr Layman said.
"Body size is important because the bigger you are the more you excrete.
"Taxonomy is important because different species of fish eat different food items and have different body structures."
The researchers studied some 900 individual fish or invertebrates in a diverse marine community in The Bahamas.
"We examined everything from sea cucumbers to moray eels - 102 species in all - and using these data were able to test what best predicts how animals recycle nitrogen and phosphorus," Jacob Allgeier, lead author on the study, said.
"These findings can be applied to draw general conclusions across other ecosystems. But we also need to acknowledge that certain species can have unique effects on these ecological processes."
These research findings carry much significance for coastal management initiatives, Mr Layman added.
"Coral restoration is becoming a widespread management practice and fish-based nutrient supply has been shown to be important for coral health - and thus the success of restoration efforts."
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