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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Seascape Configuration and Fine-Scale Habitat Complexity Shape Parrotfish Distribution and Function across a Coral Reef Lagoon

Eggertsen, Maria; Chacin, Dinorah H.; van Lier, Joshua; Eggertsen, Linda; Fulton, Christopher J.; Wilson, Shaun; Halling, Christina; Berkstrom, Charlotte


Structural complexity spanning fine to broad spatial scales can influence the distribution and activity of key organisms within marine ecosystems. However, the relative importance of hard (e.g., corals) and/or soft (e.g., macroalgae) structural complexity for marine organisms is often unclear. This study shows how both broad-scale (seascape configuration of coral structure) and fine-scale habitat complexity (structure height, number of holes, and presence of macroalgae) can influence the abundance and spatial ecology of reef fish. Underwater visual census of fish, surveys of habitats, remote underwater videos, and behavioral observations by following individual fish were used to quantify fine-scale habitat characteristics (e.g., complexity, coral structure height, macroalgae presence) and the abundance, size structure, and behavior (rates of herbivory, tortuosity ratios and total distance travelled) of abundant parrotfish. Both seascape configuration and macroalgae influenced the patterns of fish abundance and rates of herbivory. However, these relationships varied with trophic groups and ontogenetic stages. Abundance of adult and intermediate-phase parrotfishes was positively influenced by densely aggregated coral structures, whereas juvenile abundance was positively influenced by the presence of macroalgae. Foraging path and bite rates of an abundant parrotfish, Chlorurus spilurus, were not influenced by coral structure configuration or height, but the presence of macroalgae increased the bite rates of all juvenile parrotfish. Our results suggest that a combination of seascape configuration, fine-scale habitat complexity, and microhabitat selectivity influence reef fish community structure and foraging behavior, thus altering herbivory. However, these relationships can differ among functional groups of fish and life-history stages. Information on these fish-habitat interactions is critical for identifying habitats that facilitate ecological functions and ensures the successful management and conservation of essential habitats.


herbivorous fish; functional diversity; ecosystem function

Published in

2020, Volume: 12, number: 10, article number: 391
Publisher: MDPI

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    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG14 Life below water

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