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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 268:221-230 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps268221

Habitat structure, disturbance and the composition of sand-dwelling goby assemblages in a coral reef lagoon

Craig Syms1,2,*, Geoffrey P. Jones1

1School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
2Present address: Long Marine Laboratory and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, 100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA

ABSTRACT: Coral reef lagoons and back reef areas are composed more of sand than hard reef habitat. They support a diverse mix of fishes, including species restricted to sandy habitats and those dependent on both hard and soft substrata. However the resident assemblages associated with sand and the factors affecting their distribution and abundance are poorly understood. Here we examine spatial co-variation in the abundance of burrowing goby assemblages and habitat characteristics in the lagoon at Lizard Island (Great Barrier Reef). The aim was to identify which key habitat-variables should be incorporated into models to predict the structure of sand-dwelling fish communities. We focused on 10 common sand goby species from 7 genera: Amblyeleotris, Cryptocentrus, Ctenogobiops and Vanderhorstia (associated with burrows constructed by alpheid shrimps), and Amblygobius, Oplopomus and Valenciennea (free-living, burrowing species). Spatial patterns were examined by stratifying the lagoon into 6 recognizable habitat zones, and conducting visual transects in replicate sites within each zone. The abundance of all goby species encountered and habitat variables (depth, distance from reef, topography, disturbance of different types, sediment composition) were recorded in each transect. Habitat characteristics and fish abundance, diversity and species composition differed markedly among habitat types and sites within habitats. There was a strong association between sites grouped according to habitat characteristics and goby assemblage. These changes reflected species-specific responses to different combinations of habitat variables and their interactions. All habitat variables measured were at least partially correlated, either positively or negatively, with the abundance of some of the species. Depth, distance from consolidated reef, sediment composition and the level of disturbance were particularly important. Our study indicates that sandy habitats, although superficially uniform, support highly structured fish communities influenced by a wide range of factors.

KEY WORDS: Gobiidae · Soft-sediment · Disturbance · Tropical fish · Habitat association · Lagoon

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