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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Contrasting distribution and foraging patterns of herbivorous and detritivorous fishes across multiple habitats in a tropical seascape

Eggertsen, M.; Chacin, D. H.; Akerlund, C.; Halling, C.; Berkstrom, C.


Understanding drivers behind patterns of functionally important groups of fishes is crucial for successful management and conservation of tropical seascapes. Herbivorous fishes are the most prominent consumers of marine primary production which can have profound effects on reef resilience. We explored environmental variables affecting distribution and foraging patterns of herbivorous and detritivorous fish assemblages (siganids, acanthurids and parrotfish) across distinct shallow-water habitats (coral reefs, macroalgae beds and seagrass meadows) during September-November 2016 at Mafia Island, Tanzania (8 degrees 00S, 39 degrees 41E). We performed underwater visual census to quantify fish assemblages, measured habitat features, deployed macroalgal assays and conducted inventories of grazing scars. Multi-dimensional scaling and mixed-effects linear models were used to evaluate differences in fish assemblages and environmental variables influencing abundance and foraging patterns of fishes. Fish communities of focal functional groups differed among habitats. Abundance of herbivores and detritivores as well as relative browsing and scraping was highest on coral reefs compared to macroalgae and seagrass meadows.Adult fish were more abundant on coral reefs while juveniles were abundant in macroalgal beds. Coral cover and crustose coralline algal cover had a positive effect on the abundance of fish in coral reef areas, while macroalgal cover had a negative effect. Contrastingly, in macroalgae habitats, macroalgal cover had a positive effect on the abundance of parrotfish. These results highlight the importance of considering connectivity between macroalgal beds and coral reefs through ontogenetic shifts in habitat use by primarily microphagous parrotfish and of incorporating a range of habitats within coastal management plans.

Published in

Marine Biology
2019, Volume: 166, number: 4, article number: 51

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG14 Life below water

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Fish and Aquacultural Science

    Publication identifier


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