Coral settlement and recruitment are negatively related to reef fish trait diversity

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Coral Reefs, 2023, 42, (2), pp. 519-533
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The process of coral recruitment is crucial to the functioning of coral reef ecosystems and recovery of coral assemblages following disturbances. Fishes can be key mediators of this process by removing benthic competitors like algae, but their foraging impacts are capable of being facilitative or harmful to coral recruits depending on species traits. Reef fish assemblages are highly diverse in foraging strategies, and the relationship between this diversity with coral settlement and recruitment success remains poorly understood. Here, we investigate how foraging trait diversity of reef fish assemblages covaries with coral settlement and recruitment success across multiple sites at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef. Using a multi-model inference approach incorporating six metrics of fish assemblage foraging diversity (foraging rates, trait richness, trait evenness, trait divergence, herbivore abundance, and sessile invertivore abundance), we found that herbivore abundance was positively related to both coral settlement and recruitment success. However, the correlation with herbivore abundance was not as strong in comparison with foraging trait diversity metrics. Coral settlement and recruitment exhibited a negative relationship with foraging trait diversity, especially with trait divergence and richness in settlement. Our findings provide further evidence that fish play a role in making benthic habitats more conducive for coral settlement and recruitment. Because of their ability to shape the reef benthos, the variation of fish biodiversity is likely to contribute to spatially uneven patterns of coral recruitment and reef recovery.
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