Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 94, Issue 4, pp 601–614 | Cite as

Ecomorphological analysis as a complementary tool to detect changes in fish communities following major perturbations in two South African estuarine systems

  • Antoni Lombarte
  • Ana Gordoa
  • Alan K. Whitfield
  • Nicola C. James
  • Víctor M. Tuset


Ecomorphological changes as a result of natural perturbations in estuarine fish communities were investigated in two South African estuaries (Swartvlei and East Kleinemonde), both before and after the loss of aquatic macrophyte beds in these systems. The fish communities were analysed using an ecomorphological diversity index (EMI) and the results compared to a traditional index, the Shannon-Wiener diversity index. The EMI revealed that the major changes in fish community composition recorded in both estuaries were associated with quantitative variations at the species level. Both estuaries essentially lost their macrophyte beds and ended up with the same type of bottom habitat (bare sediment). In both cases the fish morphological variability decreased immediately after aquatic macrophyte loss and then increased to end above the initial value. The ecomorphological analysis appeared to be sensitive to major ecological disturbances that occurred during the study period and this was confirmed by the morphospace configuration. The results indicate that the ecomorphology of the fish community responds to habitat changes and that this change corresponds to alterations in the representation of the different feeding types. These findings therefore contribute to the measurement of morphological changes in estuarine fish assemblages as a result of habitat changes within the ecosystem and we propose that ecomorphological analyses add another dimension to the information provided by existing diversity indices in studying changing fish communities.


Ecomorpholgy Index of diversity South African estuarine systems Fish communities 



This work has been supported by the MEC CGL2004-0384-E project and National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa.


  1. Adams DC, Rohlf FJ, Slice D (2003) Geometric morphometrics: ten years of progress following the ‘Revolution’. It J Zool 71:5–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Antonucci F, Costa C, Aguzzi J, Cautadella S (2009) Ecomorphology of morpho-functional relationships in the family of Sparidae: a quantitative statistic approach. J Morphol 270:843–855PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnett A, Bellwood DR, Hoey AS (2006) Trophic ecomorphology of cardinalfish. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 322:249–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Begon M, Harper JL, Townsend CR (1986) Ecology: individuals, populations and communities. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  5. Bellwood DR, Wainwright PC, Fulton CJ, Hoey AS (2006) Functional versatility supports coral reef biodiversity. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 273:101–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bock WJ (1990) From biologische anatomie to ecomorphology. Neth J Zool 40:254–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bohannan BJM, Hughes J (2003) New aproaches to analyzing microbial biodiversity data. Curr Opin Microbiol 6:282–287PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clarke KR, Warwick RM (1998) A taxonomic distinctness index and its statistical properties. J Appl Ecol 35:523–531CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clarke KR, Warwick RM (1999) The taxonomic distinctness measure of biodiversity, weighting of step lengths between hierarchical levels. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 184:21–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clarke KR, Warwick RM (2001) A further biodiversity index applicable to species lists, variation in taxonomic distinctness. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 216:265–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cornwell WK, Schwilk DW, Ackerly DD (2006) A trait-based test for habitat filtering: convex hull volume. Ecology 87:1465–1471PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Costa C, Cautadella S (2007) Relationship between shape and trophic ecology of selected species of Sparids of the Caprolace coastal lagoon (Central Tyrrhenian Sea). Env Biol Fish 78:115–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ernst R, Linsenmair KE, Rodel MO (2006) Diversity erosion beyond the species level: dramatic loss of functional diversity after selective logging in two tropical amphibian communities. Biol Conserv 133:143–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flynn DFB, Gogol-Prokurat M, Nogeire T, Molinari N, Richers BT, Lin BB, Simpson N, Mayfield MM, DeClerck F (2009) Loss of functional diversity under land use intensification across multiple taxa. Ecol Lett 12:22–33PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fulton CJ, Bellwood DR, Wainwright PC (2001) The relationship between swimming ability and habitat use in wrasses (Labridae). Mar Biol 139:25–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gatz AJ (1979) Community organization in fishes as indicated by morphological features. Ecology 60:711–718CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gray JS (2000) The measurement of marine species diversity, with an application to the benthic fauna of the Norwegian continental shelf. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 250:23–49PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Green RH, Vascotto GL (1978) A method for the analysis of environmental factors controlling patterns of species composition in aquatic communities. Water Res 12:583–590CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hertel H (1966) Structure, form and movement. Reinhold, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. James NC, Whitfield AK, Cowley PD (2008) Long-term stability of the fish assemblages in a warm-temperate South African estuary. Est Coast Shelf Sci 76:723–738CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Karr JR, James FC (1975) Eco-morphological configurations and convergent evolution of species and communities. In: Cody ML, Diamond JM (eds) Ecology and evolution of communities. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp 258–291Google Scholar
  22. Lindsey CC (1978) Form, function, and locomotory habits in fish. In: Hoar WS, Randall DJ (eds) Fish physiology: locomotion. Academic, New York, pp 1–100Google Scholar
  23. Lombarte A, Olaso I, Bozzano A (2003) Ecomorphological trends in Artedidraconidae (Pisces: Perciformes: Notothenioidei) of the Weddell Sea. Ant Sci 15:211–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lombarte A, Palmer M, Matallanas J, Gómez-Zurita J, Morales-Nin B (2010) Ecomorphological trends and phylogenetic inertia of otolith sagittae in Nototheniidae. Environl Biol Fish 89:607–618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lydy MJ, Crawford CG, Frey JW (2000) A comparison of selected diversity, similarity, and biotic indices for detecting changes in bentic-invertebrate community structure and stream quality. Arch Environ Comtam Toxicol 39:469–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Macleod N, Forey PL (2002) Introduction: morphology, shape, and phylogenetics. In: Macleod N, Forey PL (eds) Morphology, shape and phylogeny. CRC, Boca Raton, pp 1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Magurran AE (1988) Ecological diversity and its measurement. Princenton University Press, New Jersey, p 179Google Scholar
  28. Mason NWH, Lanoiselee C, Mouillot D, Irz P, Argillier C (2007) Functional characters combined with null models reveal inconsistency in mechanisms of species turnover in lacustrine fish communities. Oecologia 153:441–452PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McGill BJ, Enquist BJ, Weiher E, Westoby M (2006) Rebuilding community ecology from functional traits. Trends Ecol Evol 21:178–185PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Motta PJ, Kotrschal KM (1992) Correlative, experimental, and comparative evolutionary approaches in ecomorphology. Nether J Zool 42:400–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Motta PJ, Clifton K, Hernandez P, Eggold BT (1995) Ecomorphological correlates in ten species of subtropical seagrass fishes: diet and microhabitat utilization. Env Biol Fish 44:37–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mouillot D, Gaillard S, Aliaume C, Verlaque M, Belscher T, Troussellier M, Chi TD (2005) Ability of taxonomic indices to determinate coastal lagoon environments based on macrophyte communities. Ecol Indic 5:1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Neige P (2003) Spatial patterns of disparity and diversity of the recent cuttlefishes (Cephalopoda) across the Old World. J Biogeogr 30:1125–1137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Norton SF, Luczkovich JJ, Motta PJ (1995) The role of ecomorphological studies in the comparative biology of fishes. Env Biol Fish 44:287–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Olden JD, Poff NL, Bestgen KR (2008) Trait synergisms and the rarity, extirpation, and extinction risk of desert fishes. Ecology 89:847–856PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Paddack MJ, Cowen RK, Sponaugle S (2006) Grazing pressure of herbivorous coral reef fishes on low coral-cover reefs. Coral Reefs 25:461–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Petchey OL, Gaston KJ (2006) Functional diversity: back to basics and looking forward. Ecol Lett 9:741–758PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pouilly M, Lino F, Bretenoux JG, Rosales C (2003) Dietary-morphological relationships in a fish assemblage of the Bolivian Amazonian floodplain. J Fish Biol 62:1137–1158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pulcini D, Costa C, Aguzzi J, Cataudella S (2007) Light and shape: a contribution to demonstrate morphological differences in diurnal and nocturnal Teleosts. J Morphol 269:375–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Recasens L, Lombarte A, Sánchez P (2006) Teleostean fish composition and structure of an artificial reef and a natural rocky area in Catalonia (North Western Mediterranean). Bull Mar Sci 78:71–82Google Scholar
  41. Rohlf FJ (2001) TPS Dig 1.31 and TPS relative wards software. Stony Brook, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  42. Rohlf FJ (2003) tpsPLS, partial least-squares, version 1.12. Stony Brook, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  43. Rohlf FJ, Marcus LF (2003) A revolution in morphometrics. Trends Ecol Evol 8:129–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schoener TW (1974) Resource partitioning in ecological communities. Science 1985:27–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Shannon CE, Weaver W (1949) The mathematical theory of communication. University of Illinois Press, UrbanaGoogle Scholar
  46. Sheppard JN, James NC, Whitfield AK, Cowley PD (2011) What role do beds of submerged macrophytes play in structuring estuarine fish assemblages? Lessons from a warm-temperate South African estuary. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science 95:145–155Google Scholar
  47. Sokal RR, Michener CD (1958) A statistical method for evaluating systematic relationships. Univ Kans Sci Bull 38:1409–1438Google Scholar
  48. Sokal RR, Rohlf FJ (1962) The comparison of dendrograms by objective methods. Taxon 11:33–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Somerfield PJ, Olsgard F, Carr MR (1997) A further examination of two new taxonomic distincness measures. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 154:303–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Villéger S, Ramos-Miranda J, Flores-Hernández D, Mouillot D (2010) Contrasting changes in taxonomic vs. functional diversity of tropical fish communities after habitat degradation. Ecol Appl 20:1512–1522PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Violle C, Navas ML, Vile D, Kazakou E, Fortunel C, Hummel I, Garnier E (2007) Let the concept of trait be functional! Oikos 116:882–892CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wagner CE, McIntyre PB, Buels KS, Gilbert DM, Michel E (2009) Diet predicts intestine length in Lake Tanganyika’s cichlid fishes. Funct Ecol 23:1122–1131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wainwright PC, Richard BA (1995) Predicting patterns of prey use from morphology of fishes. Env Biol Fish 44:97–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wainwright PC, Bellwood DR, Westneat MW (2002) Ecomorphology of locomotion in labrid fishes. Environ Biol Fish 65:47–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Warwick RM, Clarke KR (1995) New biodiversity measures reveal a decrease in taxonomic distinctness with increasing stress. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 129:301–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Warwick RM, Clarke KR (1998) A taxonomic distinctness index and its statistical properties. J Appl Ecol 35:523–531CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Webb CO (2000) Exploring the phylogenetic structure of ecological communities: an example for rain forest trees. Am Nat 156:145–155PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Whitfield AK (1986) Fish community structure response to major habitat changes within the littoral zone of an estuarine coastal lake. Env Biol Fish 17:41–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Whitfield AK (1992) A characterization of southern African estuarine systems. Sth Afr J Aquat Sci 18:89–103Google Scholar
  60. Whitfield AK (1998) Biology and ecology of fishes in southern African estuaries. Ichthyol Monogr JLB Smith Inst Ichthyol 2:1–223Google Scholar
  61. Whittaker RH (1960) Vegetation of the siskiyou mountains. Oregon and California. Ecol Monogr 30:279–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Winemiller KO (1991) Ecomorphological diversification in lowland fresh-water fish assemblages from 5 biotic regions. Ecol Mongr 61:343–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Zelditch ML, Sheets HD, Fink WL (2003) The ontogenic dynamics of shape disparity. Paleobiol 29:139–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antoni Lombarte
    • 1
  • Ana Gordoa
    • 2
  • Alan K. Whitfield
    • 3
  • Nicola C. James
    • 3
  • Víctor M. Tuset
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut de Ciències del Mar-CSICBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Centre d’Estudis Avançats-CSICBlanesSpain
  3. 3.South African Institute for Aquatic BiodiversityGrahamstownSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations