Are soft coral habitats unfavourable? A closer look at the association between reef fishes and their habitat

Epstein, Hannah E., and Kingsford, Michael J. (2019) Are soft coral habitats unfavourable? A closer look at the association between reef fishes and their habitat. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 102. pp. 479-497.

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The structural complexity of coral reef environments has a strong influence on the assemblage of reef-associated fishes and invertebrates. These unique ecosystems provide these reef-associated species with a broad range of potential habitats, which offer important resources such as food and shelter. The most studied habitat association on reefs is that of hard coral and fish, where hard coral cover has been found to have a large and positive influence on the assemblage of reef fishes. In contrast, soft coral has been considered poor habitat due to their chemical defences and weak body architecture. However, the empirical basis for this assumption is minimal and the ecological importance of soft corals remains controversial and unresolved. The present study closely examined fish assemblages utilising a mixed mosaic of coral reef habitats at sites ranging from hard to soft coral dominated assemblages. Fishes associated with soft coral in a variety of ways including as shelter, a source of food or a surface on which epiphytic food was sourced. Fish assemblages remained similar between soft and hard coral dominated habitats, and there was no evidence that a high percentage cover of soft coral had deleterious effects. Further, a significant increase in species richness of fishes was found with increasing soft coral cover, suggesting that the importance of soft coral habitat has been underestimated on reefs with a mosaic of different habitats. Here, we discuss the implications of these associations and suggest that soft coral provides distinct habitat for reef fishes, and future research should address their ecological importance.

Item ID: 57414
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1573-5133
Keywords: Soft coral, Coral cover, Reef fishes, Fish assemblage, Habitat associations
Copyright Information: Copyright Springer Nature B.V. 2019
Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Date Deposited: 13 Mar 2019 07:38
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 60%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410203 Ecosystem function @ 40%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 60%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960307 Effects of Climate Change and Variability on Australia (excl. Social Impacts) @ 40%
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