Habitat characteristics can influence fish assemblages in high latitude kelp forests
Kelp forests are patchy fish-associated habitats, which can vary greatly in their size, foundation species, and several physical habitat attributes. The structure of fish assemblages can vary with these characteristics and with the location of the assemblage within the forest, i.e. edges versus interiors. This study quantified the biological and physical heterogeneity within different sized kelp forests and identified which factors are important in structuring the associated fish assemblages. Fish and habitat surveys were conducted at the edge and interiors of ten kelp forests of varying sizes in Kachemak Bay, south-central Alaska. Fish assemblage structure was not correlated with the species composition of surface canopy forming foundation kelps (Nereocystis leutkeana and Eualaria fistulosa) or with kelp forest size. Instead, it correlated with the abundances of two understory foundation kelps (Agarum clathratum and Saccharina latissima), substratum rugosity, and water depth. Together these benthic attributes explained 53.6 % of the fish assemblage variability. Additionally, significantly different fish assemblages were found at edge compared to interior locations with the relative abundance of seven species (Artedius fenestralis, Ammodytes hexapterus, Blepsias cirrhosis, Gadus macrocephalus, Hexagrammos stelleri, Pholis laeta, and Sebastes melanops) explaining 91.4 % of the variability. This study highlights the importance of habitat characteristics such as understory foundation species, substratum rugosity, water depth and location within a patch on the variability of fish assemblages in high latitude kelp forests.
KeywordsKelp forest Fish Patch dynamics
We thank A Seitz, M Stekoll, K Iken, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on this research. Field support was provided by N Stewart, M Deiman, and M Schuster. Logistic support was provided by M and C Geagle and H Pedersen at the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory. Funding for this project was provided by the Rasmuson Fisheries Research Center and the Frances & Alfred Baker Scholarship. This research was conducted under UAF Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee protocol #09-26.
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