Habitat patchiness and predation modify the distribution of a coral-dwelling damselfish
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Fish abundance is often better predicted by microhabitat variables on continuous reefs than on isolated patch reefs. Although this was suggested to stem from reduced post-recruitment relocation, this has not been shown experimentally. We found the relationship between the presence of a coral-dwelling fish, Dascyllus marginatus, and the size of its coral host to differ between corals on continuous reefs and the sparsely distributed corals on sandy bottoms. Empty transplanted corals were colonized exclusively by new recruits when on the sandy bottom, and both by new recruits and post-recruitment dispersal of adults when on the continuous reef. New recruits settled predominantly into small corals, although analyses of recruitment patterns were confounded by low recruitment in the studied years. Both tank experiments and field survey data suggest that the presence of recruits in small corals is at least partially driven by predation by the dottyback, Pseudochromis olivaceus, which lives predominantly in large corals within both habitats. Consequently, we suggest that the relationship between fish presence and coral size differs between the habitats due to coral size dependent predation on recruits and variability in the importance of direct recruitment to replenish fish populations.
KeywordsCoral Cover Patch Reef Coral Size Coral Reef Fish Small Coral
Special thanks to R. Niv, O. Polak and N. Ben-Moshe for extensive help UW and to R. Kent, O. Ben-Tzvi and three anonymous reviewers for constructive comments. This research was conducted under permit no. 2007/28847 from the Israeli Nature Reserve Authority. This study was partly supported by the Kreitman foundation.
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