How flexible are habitat specialists? Short-term space use in obligate coral-dwelling damselfishes

Streit, Robert P., Hemingson, Christopher R., Cumming, Graeme S., and Bellwood, David R. (2021) How flexible are habitat specialists? Short-term space use in obligate coral-dwelling damselfishes. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, 31. pp. 381-398.

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As habitats change, highly specialised species may die or be forced to relocate. However, some obligate coral-dwelling damselfishes appear to survive the localized extinction of their primary habitat, branching coral, caused by coral bleaching. To address this apparent paradox, we documented the spatial behaviour of obligate coral-dwellers in relation to habitat quality. Focussing on two obligate coral-dwelling damselfishes (Pomacentrus moluccensis and Chromis viridis), we used KUDs (Kernel Utilisation Distributions) to quantify fishes’ short-term space use (daily 5 min observations across 6 days) and related it to live coral cover and structural complexity derived from 3D photogrammetry. Specifically, we calculated movement extent (95% KUD), core areas (50% KUD) and the temporal consistency of occupied areas across consecutive days. Structural complexity had no effect on space use. The effect of live coral cover was significant but weak and dependent on fish body-size: core areas increased with decreasing live coral cover for large fishes; smaller fishes showed little response. In contrast to weak habitat effects, there were strong differences across sites. At one site, average core areas increased three-fold to 1.1 m2 for P. moluccensis and over 60-fold for C. viridis, from 1.14 m2 to an average core area of 92.34 m2 and a maximum recorded extent of 1471.4 m2. These findings may help explain these fishes’ apparent, unexpected resilience to habitat loss. Obligate coral-dwelling fishes may prefer branching live coral, but their ‘obligate’ dependence may be more flexible and context dependent. As ecosystems reconfigure, plasticity in fine-scale spatial behaviour may be critical for the persistence of fish populations.

Item ID: 68635
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1573-5184
Keywords: Anthropocene; Coral bleaching; Pomacentridae; Space use; Structural complexity; Structure-from-motion
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Copyright Information: © The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG part of Springer Nature 2021
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC research grants to the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, ARC Laurate Fellowship
Research Data:
Date Deposited: 13 Jul 2021 02:21
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310301 Behavioural ecology @ 30%
31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 40%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4101 Climate change impacts and adaptation > 410102 Ecological impacts of climate change and ecological adaptation @ 30%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 100%
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