The relationship between habitat structure and fish faunas on new zealand reefs

Choat, J.H.; Ayling, A.M.

Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 110(3): 257-284


ISSN/ISBN: 0022-0981
DOI: 10.1016/0022-0981(87)90005-0
Accession: 006749914

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Reef fish abundances were sampled at 11 shallow reef localities extending over 1000 km of coastline in northern New Zealand. Sampling was restricted to the 4-10-m depth stratum and included six coastal and five island localities. These were either coralline reef flats dominated by echinoids, or algal reefs with high densities of laminarian and fucoid algae. Reefs dominated by macroscopic algae supported large numbers of small fishes, mainly labrids, and few large benthic-feeding fishes. Echinoid-dominated reefs supported a different fish fauna with more large benthic-feeding species. Additional sampling of echinoid-dominated reefs and algal stands in deeper water provided confirmation of these findings. A second sampling programme was carried out at a series of eight sites within a single locality covering 5 km of coastline. These spanned a moderate exposure gradient and ranged from algal dominated reefs to typical coralline reef flats with high densities of grazing invertebrates. The relationship between habitat structure and reef fish species composition and size frequency was similar to that of the large-scale sampling programme. Thirdly, observations on reef fish foraging and feeding patterns within a single reef site suggested that larger benthic-feeding reef fishes were less likely to feed within macroscopic algal stands. Experimental reductions of grazing invertebrates designed to produce brown algal stands on echinoid-dominated reef flats supported these observations. Larger individuals capable of removing echinoids and grazing gastropods did not frequent or feed in laminarian and fucoid algal stands. This pattern is discernible at several spatial scales. Our conclusion is that the type of shallow reef habitat, echinoid- as opposed to algal-dominated, will have an important role in determining the associated reef fish fauna.