MEPS 202:175-192 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps202175

Importance of shallow-water biotopes of a Caribbean bay for juvenile coral reef fishes: patterns in biotope association, community structure and spatial distribution

I. Nagelkerken1,2, M. Dorenbosch2, W. C. E. P. Verberk2, E. Cocheret de la Morinière2, G. van der Velde2,*

1Carmabi Foundation, PO Box 2090, Piscaderabaai z/n, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
2Laboratory of Aquatic Ecology, Aquatic Animal Ecology Section, University of Nijmegen, Toernooiveld 1, 6525 ED Nijmegen, The Netherlands
*Corresponding author. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Fish community structure of a non-estuarine inland bay on the Caribbean island of Curaçao was determined in the mangroves, seagrass beds, algal beds, channel, fossil reef boulders, notches in fossil reef rock, and on the adjacent coral reef, using visual censuses in belt transects. Fish communities varied among biotopes, but some overlap was present. Fish density and species richness were highest at the boulders and on the coral reef, and extremely low on the algal beds, whereas the total number of individuals calculated for the entire bay was highest on the seagrass beds. Differences in fish densities between biotopes were related to differences in structural complexity and amount of shelter. Fishes in the bay largely consisted of 17 (mainly commercially important) reef fish species, which used the bay biotopes only as a nursery during the juvenile part of their life cycle. Small juveniles of these species were most often found in the mangroves, whereas at intermediate sizes some were found in the channel. Large individuals and adults were found on the reef, and densities of several of these species were higher on the reef near the bay than on reefs located farther down-current. Fishes which spent their entire life cycles in either the bay or on the coral reef were also found, and the latter group showed a strong decrease in abundance with increasing distance into the bay. The density distribution of individual fish species was not homogeneous within the bay. In the mangroves and seagrass beds, spatial distribution of fishes was correlated with distance to the mouth of the bay, water transparency, amount of shelter, and the structural complexity of the biotope. Juveniles of 3 reef species showed an increase in size on the seagrass beds with distance from the mouth into the bay, whereas 1 bay species showed a decrease in size with this distance.

KEY WORDS: Mangroves · Seagrass beds · Coral reef fish · Nursery · Habitat association · Community structure · Habitat complexity

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