Habitat selection and aggression as determinants of fine-scale partitioning of coral reef zones in a guild of territorial damselfishes

Eurich, J.G., McCormick, M.I., and Jones, G.P. (2018) Habitat selection and aggression as determinants of fine-scale partitioning of coral reef zones in a guild of territorial damselfishes. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 587. pp. 201-215.

[img] PDF (Published Version) - Published Version
Restricted to Repository staff only

View at Publisher Website: http://dx.doi.org/10.3354/meps12458


A major goal of ecology is to explain the mechanisms that drive species distributions and ecological partitioning along gradients in the natural environment. The distributions of ecologically similar animals may depend on the degree of habitat specialization and behavioural interactions within and among species. The extent of ecological partitioning in guilds of coral reef fishes has been a matter of debate, but the roles of habitat selectivity and agonistic interactions have received little attention. Here these effects were examined by investigating fine-scale species distributions, microhabitat use, and aggression in a guild of 7 territorial damselfish species in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. We documented patterns of habitat partitioning across the 3 reef zones—reef flat, reef crest, and reef slope—with distinct patterns of distribution within these zones at extremely fine scales (1-2 m). Distinct differences between neighbouring species in the substrata selected were also observed. We hypothesized that fine-scale differences in distribution and microhabitat use could be maintained by aggressive interactions. To test this, we employed a ‘bottle’ experiment, where stimulus fish were introduced into a resident’s territory, and aggression was recorded. Aggression elicited by neighbouring species was significantly higher for all species, compared with non-adjacent species. Levels of aggression differed among species, with the most aggressive species dominating the reef crest where the most distributional overlap occurred. This study revealed a fine level of spatial partitioning among reef zones and microhabitats in this guild of damselfish, which is likely to be maintained by agonistic interactions among neighbouring species. We demonstrate that when exploring coexistence in reef fish communities, the more traditional niche mechanisms operate alongside competitive dynamics, and within highly diverse systems these ecological processes are magnified.

Item ID: 52194
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1616-1599
Keywords: coral reef fish; distribution; ecological versatility; interspecific competition; Pomacentridae; Papua New Guinea; resource use; depth gradient
Related URLs:
Additional Information:

A version of this publication was included as Chapter 2 of the following PhD thesis: Eurich, Jacob G. (2018) Processes underlying the fine-scale partitioning and niche diversification in a guild of coral reef damselfishes. PhD thesis, James Cook University, which is available Open Access in ResearchOnline@JCU. Please see the Related URLs for access.

Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2018 03:39
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
Downloads: Total: 2
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page