The influence of resource specialization on the response of reef fish to coral disturbance

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Journal Article
Marine Biology, 2007, 153 (2), pp. 153 - 161
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Ecological theory predicts that habitat generalists are less prone to decline or extinction in response to habitat disturbance than habitat specialists. One mechanism that may afford habitat generalists greater persistence is their ability to successfully emigrate from degrading environments. This study compared the response of habitat specialist and generalist reef fish species to live coral disturbance. In replicate coral colonies, live coral was experimentally degraded (low, medium and high coral loss). Species continued residence within the colonies was then surveyed over time. In addition, the ability of habitat generalist and specialist species to migrate between degraded (100% loss) and live coral colonies was compared. Habitat specialists exhibited a higher propensity to remain in colonies with low levels of coral loss. However, there was no significant difference between specialist and generalist species in continued residence in habitats with either medium or high levels of coral loss; both functional groups showed low levels of residence. In terms of migration success, generalists moved further than specialists and showed higher levels of successful migration over the majority of distances examined. The influence of habitat specialization on the behavioral response to coral loss may be a useful predictor of changes to coral reef fish communities in response to coral disturbance. © 2007 Springer-Verlag.
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