Ontogenetic habitat shifts in fusiliers (Lutjanidae): evidence from Caesio cuning at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef

Valenzuela, Jessica, Bellwood, David, and Morais, Renato (2021) Ontogenetic habitat shifts in fusiliers (Lutjanidae): evidence from Caesio cuning at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs, 40. pp. 1687-1696.

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Planktivorous reef-associated fishes provide a significant nutrient input to the reef, linking pelagic and reef environments. Highly mobile and relatively large body-sized fusiliers (Lutjanidae) often dominate reef fish biomass, but their role in ecosystem processes is poorly understood. We therefore combined fish counts and behavioural observations at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, to investigate: (1) the spatial distribution and biology of fusiliers on a lagoonal coral reef system, and (2) how does fusilier behaviour and size distribution change from exposed to sheltered locations. We found higher abundances of large-sized fusiliers (≥ 20 cm total length) on exposed reef sites. Sheltered sites had almost exclusively small individuals (< 20 cm total length). We interpret this pattern as indicative of an ontogenetic habitat shift. This shift was estimated to occur at about 11.15 cm total length; the size at which the likelihood of an individual being in exposed or sheltered locations was equal. The age corresponding to this length was 1.01 years, based on a von Bertalanffy growth model using size-at-age data from otolith rings of Caesio cuning, the most abundant fusilier species in this location. This suggested that the shift in distribution occurred prior to the onset of sexual maturity. This apparent ontogenetic shift to more exposed habitats with increasing size, especially in C. cuning, was also associated with a distinct behavioural profile: larger fish at the exposed sites travelled further off reef, occupied deeper habitats, and formed larger schools compared to smaller individuals. This study provides the first evidence of seascape-scale ontogenetic habitat shifts in a planktivorous reef fish, providing a foundation for future detailed analyses of the ecological roles of fusiliers.

Item ID: 70574
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: Age-at-size estimates, Coral reef ecosystem function, Fish planktivory, Growth rates, Wave exposure
Copyright Information: © The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2021
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC Laureate Fellowship (FL190100062
Date Deposited: 23 Mar 2022 04:36
Downloads: Total: 1
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