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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 303:283-293 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps303283

Wave energy and spatial variability in community structure of small cryptic coral reef fishes

Martial Depczynski*, David R. Bellwood

Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity, Department of Marine Biology, James Cook University, Townsville 4811, Australia

ABSTRACT: The distribution and abundance of small cryptic reef fishes were quantified among microhabitats and reef zones at both exposed and sheltered sites at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef. A total of 1042 individuals from 44 species in 8 families were sampled. Marked variation in abundance, species numbers, size-class distribution and species composition were displayed among reef zones at exposed sites; in contrast, comparatively little variation was found in sheltered sites. The exposed, wave-swept front flat reef zone was clearly the most depauperate and species-poor zone with calmer back reef, lagoonal and reef base zones containing the highest numbers of individuals and species. Larger, heavier individuals predominated in exposed wave-swept reef zones whereas smaller, lighter individuals were commonly found in calmer waters. Sheltered sites exhibited little variation among zones. In these sites, microhabitat appeared to play a much greater role in shaping community composition. Overall, 68.5% of all individuals (70.1% at exposed and 65.4% at sheltered sites) were collected from sand/rubble microhabitats as opposed to 31.5% from open reef microhabitats. Assemblages at exposed and sheltered sites exhibited little taxonomic overlap, even of highly abundant species. These results indicate that wave energy plays a significant role in structuring small cryptic coral reef fish communities, with microhabitat type playing a key role in the absence of wave energy.

KEY WORDS: Cryptic · Distribution · Reef fish · Habitat · Community ecology · Gobiidae · Blenniidae · Wave exposure

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