We quantified the nitrogen and enzyme hydrolyzable amino acid (EHAA) concentrations of sediments prior to and after corals sloughed, ingested, and egested sediments layered onto their surfaces, for the three coral species Siderastrea siderea, Agaricia agaricites, and Porites astreoides in Jamaica. The percent nitrogen of the sediments egested by all three species was lower than in the sediments available to the corals. Additionally, the sediments sloughed ( not ingested) by A. agaricites and P. astreoides were lower in percent nitrogen, while the sediments sloughed by S. siderea had the same percent nitrogen as that of the available sediments. The percent nitrogen of the sediments sloughed and egested by P. astreoides showed significant negative and positive relationships, respectively, to increasing sediment loads, while the percent nitrogen of the sediments sloughed and egested by both S. siderea and A. agaricites showed no relationship to sediment load. EHAA concentrations were not significantly different between the sloughed and available sediments but were significantly lower in the sediments egested by S. siderea and A. agaricites ( EHAA concentrations were not measured for P. astreodies sediment fractions). Comparisons of the nitrogen and EHAA concentrations in the sloughed and egested sediments to what was available prior to coral processing show that maximum ingestion was between 0.1 and 0.2 mug N mug(-1) coral N cm(-2) and between 0.5 and 0.6 mug EHAA.cm(-2). Maximum assimilation efficiencies were estimated to be 30 - 60% of the available nitrogen. The data show that corals ingest and alter the nitrogen concentration of particles that land on their surfaces. The corals' abilities to process these sediments, and the sediments' possible contributions to coral nutrition, are discussed based on these results.
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