MEPS 228:213-226 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps228213

Use of back-reef and lagoon habitats by coral reef fishes

Aaron J. Adams*, John P. Ebersole

Biology Department, University of Massachusetts Boston, 100 Morrissey Blvd, Boston, Massachusetts 02125, USA
*E-mail:

ABSTRACT: We visually censused fishes along transects on the back-reef and adjacent lagoons of bank-barrier reefs at 6 sites on St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, to determine the extent to which coral reef fishes use lagoon habitats as nurseries. Fishes were recorded by size class (small, <3 cm; medium, 3 to 5 cm; large, >5 cm) on the back-reef, and on 5 lagoon habitat types: patch-reef, rubble, seagrass, algal plain, and sand. We examined densities of 4 focal Œspecies¹ (Acanthurus spp. [A. bahianus and A. chirurgus], Haemulon spp. [all species of the Haemulon genus], Sparisoma aurofrenatum, and Scarus iserti), and densities of all species combined to determine spatial and temporal patterns of habitat use. Although there was a general tendency for coral reef fishes to use lagoon habitats as nurseries, we discerned 2 patterns of habitat use: 1 group, exemplified by Acanthurus spp. and Haemulon spp., use lagoon patch-reef and rubble as nurseries in preference to back-reef and other lagoon habitats; in contrast, Sparisoma aurofrenatum and Scarus iserti preferentially use back-reef and, to a lesser extent patch-reef, as nursery, juvenile, and adult habitat. Temporal variation was greatest in the small size class and least in the large size class. Most settlement occurred during summer, which is when settlement in lagoon habitats was greatest, with a little settlement in winter in the back-reef habitat. For species that use lagoons as nurseries, lagoon habitats must provide advantages that offset the additional energy expense and predation experienced by both incoming larvae, as they cross over the reef and search for patch-reef and rubble, and juveniles, as they return to the reef during the juvenile-to-adult transition. Given the use of lagoon habitats as nurseries, there is a need for inclusion of lagoons in coral reef reserves.


KEY WORDS: Nursery · Post-settlement · Lagoons · Seagrass · Patch-reef · Rubble · Ontogenetic habitat shift · Juvenile


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