Landscape Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 8, pp 1287–1300 | Cite as

Habitat connectivity and complexity underpin fish community structure across a seascape of tropical macroalgae meadows

  • Joshua R. van LierEmail author
  • Shaun K. Wilson
  • Martial Depczynski
  • Lucy N. Wenger
  • Christopher J. Fulton
Research Article



In heterogeneous landscapes, local patterns of community structure are a product of the habitat size and condition within a patch interacting with adjacent habitat patches of varying composition and quantity. While evidence for local versus landscape factors have been found in terrestrial biomes, support for such multi-scale effects shaping marine ecological communities is equivocal.


We investigated whether within-patch habitat condition can override seascape context to explain the community structure of macroalgae-associated reef fishes across a tropical seascape.


We mapped the distribution and abundance of a diverse family of reef fishes (Labridae) occupying macroalgae meadows within a tropical reef ecosystem, and using best-subsets model selection, investigated the potential for habitat structural connectivity and/or local habitat quality for predicting variations in fish community structure across the seascape.


Local habitat quality (canopy structure, hard habitat complexity) and area of coral-dominated habitat within 500 m of a macroalgal meadow provided the best predictors of fish community structure. However, the specific importance of a given predictor varied with fish life history stage and functional trophic group. Interestingly, macroalgae meadow area was among the least important predictors.


Given the complex interplay between local habitat quality and spatial context effects on fish biodiversity, our study reveals the multi-scale predictors that should be used in spatial conservation and management approaches for tropical fish diversity. Moreover, our findings question the ubiquity of habitat area effects in patchy landscapes, and cautions against a sole reliance on habitat quantity in spatial management.


Labridae Habitat quality Canopy cover Species–area relationship Spatial context 



This research is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship, as well as with funding provided by the Linnean Society of New South Wales. We also wish to thank Kelsey Sanborn for assistance in the field.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This work was conducted with the approval of the ANU Animal Ethics Committee (protocol A2016/03).

Supplementary material

10980_2018_682_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1406 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research School of BiologyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Marine Science Program, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and AttractionsKensingtonAustralia
  3. 3.Oceans InstituteUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  4. 4.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceCrawleyAustralia

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