The ecological significance of giant clams in coral reef ecosystems

Last modified: 
August 30, 2016 - 9:46am
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2015
Date published: 01/2015
Authors: Mei Neo, William Eckman, Kareen Vicentuan, Serena Teo, Peter Todd
Journal title: Biological Conservation
Volume: 181
Pages: 111 - 123
ISSN: 00063207

Giant clams (Hippopus and Tridacna species) are thought to play various ecological roles in coral reef ecosystems, but most of these have not previously been quantified. Using data from the literature and our own studies we elucidate the ecological functions of giant clams. We show how their tissues are food for a wide array of predators and scavengers, while their discharges of live zooxanthellae, faeces, and gametes are eaten by opportunistic feeders. The shells of giant clams provide substrate for colonization by epibionts, while commensal and ectoparasitic organisms live within their mantle cavities. Giant clams increase the topographic heterogeneity of the reef, act as reservoirs of zooxanthellae (Symbiodinium spp.), and also potentially counteract eutrophication via water filtering. Finally, dense populations of giant clams produce large quantities of calcium carbonate shell material that are eventually incorporated into the reef framework. Unfortunately, giant clams are under great pressure from overfishing and extirpations are likely to be detrimental to coral reefs. A greater understanding of the numerous contributions giant clams provide will reinforce the case for their conservation.

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