Spatial, temporal and ontogenetic variation in the association of fishes (family Labridae) with rocky-reef habitats

CSIRO Publishing
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Marine and Freshwater Research, 2011, 62 (7), pp. 870 - 884
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Habitat variability is an important factor structuring fish assemblages of rocky reefs in temperate Australia. Accepting the generality of this model requires that habitat-related variation is consistent through time, across multiple spatial scales, and applies to all life-history stages. We used repeated underwater visual surveys at multiple spatial scales over a 22-month period to test whether three distinct rocky-reef habitats had different wrasse assemblages and whether these assemblages were subject to spatial, temporal and ontogenetic variability. Overall, the strongest and most consistent habitat association was with sponge gardens, which had the most distinct assemblage, and the greatest species richness and density of individuals. Habitat associations in fringe and barrens were less consistent. A substantial increase in the abundance of small individuals, coinciding with warmer sea temperatures, contributed to temporal fluctuations in the density of wrasses. Overall, habitats were not strongly partitioned among larger individuals of the most abundant species, suggesting that adults are largely habitat generalists whereas small, recruiting individuals showed greater habitat specialisation. The present study emphasises the importance of incorporating spatial, temporal and ontogenetic variability into surveys of fish assemblages to understand more fully the dynamics of temperate rocky-reef systems
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