MEPS 292:301-310 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps292301

Effects of habitat complexity on Caribbean marine fish assemblages

Brian Gratwicke1,2,*, Martin R. Speight1

1Department of Zoology, Oxford University, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3JA, UK
2Present address: The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, 1120 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20036, USA

ABSTRACT: Sets of artificial reefs were replicated in 5 bays off Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to investigate the effects of habitat complexity on fish assemblages. Increasing percentage hard substrate and the number of small reef holes increased fish abundance on reefs. The observed number of species (Sobs) occurring on each reef increased with increasing rugosity, variety of growth forms, percentage hard substrate, and variety of refuge hole sizes. A rarefied or abundance-corrected species richness measure (Srare) was calculated to take the varying fish abundances into account. After this correction, rugosity was the only variable that significantly increased fish species-richness. Experimental reefs of different height (20 and 60 cm) did not have significantly different fish abundance or species richness. The presence of long-spined sea urchins Diadema antillarum increased Sobs and total fish abundance on artificial rock-reefs and in seagrass beds, but the effect was most pronounced in seagrass beds where shelter was a strongly limiting factor. These results indicate that complex habitats or animals such as D. antillarum that provide shelter to fish are essential for maintaining fish biodiversity at local scales. The most important aspects of complexity are rugosity, hard substrate and small refuge holes. Artificial reefs may be used to mitigate habitat damage in impacted areas, and if management objectives are to increase local fish abundance and species richness, the reefs should provide a stable substrate where this is unavailable, have a rugose surface with many small refuge holes, and have a variety of growth forms.

KEY WORDS: Diadema antillarum · Artificial reefs · Refuge · Species richness · Rarefaction · Biodiversity

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