The nutritional history of corals is known to affect metabolic processes such as inorganic nutrient uptake and photosynthesis, but little is known about how it affects assimilation efficiency of ingested prey items or the partitioning of prey nitrogen between the host and symbiont. The temperate scleractinian coral Oculina arbuscula and its tropical congener Oculina diffusa were acclimated to three nutritional regimes (fed twice weekly, starved, starved with an inorganic nutrient supplement), then fed Artemia nauplii labeled with the stable isotope tracer 15N. Fed corals of both species had the lowest assimilation efficiencies (36-51% for O. arbuscula, 38-57% for O. diffusa), but were not statistically different from the other nutritional regimes. Fed and starved corals also had similar NU4+ excretion rates. This is inconsistent with decreased nitrogen excretion and reduced amino acid catabolism predicted by both the nitrogen recycling and conservation paradigms. In coral host tissue, ???90% of the ingested 15N was in the TCA-insoluble (protein and nucleic acids) and ethanol-soluble (amino acids/low molecular weight compounds) within 4 h of feeding. The TCA-insoluble pool was also the dominant repository of the label in zooxanthellae of both species (40-53% in O. arbuscula, 50-60% in O. diffusa). However, nutritional history had no effect on the distribution of prey 15N within the biochemical pools of the host or the zooxanthellae for either species. This result is consistent with the nitrogen conservation hypothesis, as preferential carbon metabolism would minimize the effects of starvation on nitrogen-containing biochemical pools. ?? Springer-Verlag 2004.