MEPS 257:209-221 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps257209

Structure of cryptic reef fish assemblages: relationships with habitat characteristics and predator density

Trevor J. Willis1,2,3,*, Marti J. Anderson2

1Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland, PO Box 349, Warkworth, New Zealand
2Department of Statistics, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
3Present address: Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerca per le Scienze Ambientali di Ravenna, Università di Bologna, Via Tombesi dall¹Ova 55, 48100 Ravenna, Italy

ABSTRACT: Cryptic fish assemblages on temperate rocky reefs in New Zealand are among the most diverse in the world, yet very little is known regarding ecological processes that may affect their density and diversity. The potential effects of reef structural complexity, kelp density, and the increased density of predatory fish on assemblages of small, cryptic reef fishes were examined in northeastern New Zealand. Sampling was conducted in replicated areas inside and outside a marine reserve, where differential densities of predatory fishes were known to occur. There was a strong positive correlation between substratum complexity and the density and diversity of cryptic fish assemblages. While the more common fish species occurred in both kelp Ecklonia radiata forest habitat and rocky reefs grazed by urchins, the composition of less abundant species differed between these 2 habitats. Assemblages in kelp forests were more variable than those in urchin barrens. The sites inside the marine reserve contained, on average, lower densities of cryptic fishes than sites outside the reserve, which might be explained by effects of predators. The effect of the marine reserve appeared to be strongest in the kelp forest habitat, with relatively little difference seen between reserve and non-reserve assemblages in unvegetated habitats. If these observed patterns are found to be consistent at other reserves and at other times, they imply that removal of predators by fishing may have large-scale positive effects on assemblages of small cryptic reef fishes.

KEY WORDS: Assemblage structure · Habitat complexity · Marine reserve · Multivariate analysis · Predation · Reef fish · Refuge

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