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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 333:243-248 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps333243

Coral degradation and the structure of tropical reef fish communities

David A. Feary*, Glenn R. Almany, Geoffrey P. Jones, Mark I. McCormick

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia

ABSTRACT: Coral reefs can be degraded by a variety of perturbations, including bleaching and predation by crown-of-thorns starfish. The combination of these disturbances has contributed to a global decline of live coral cover on reefs. While the effects of bleaching and starfish predation on corals are relatively well known, their consequences for fish communities are less understood. We compared fish assemblages associated with 2 coral species, Pocillopora damicornis and Seriatopora hystrix, among 3 coral health categories: (1) live, (2) degraded and (3) dead colonies with recent algal growth. Categories 2 and 3 occur sequentially during the first few weeks following bleaching or crown-of-thorns starfish predation. The abundance of species with an obligate association with live coral differed among coral health categories. Average total abundance of all fish species was lowest in algal-covered colonies of both coral species and these assemblages were dominated by species that are not closely associated with live coral. Lower fish abundance on algal-covered colonies was largely due to the low number of small size classes (new recruits and juveniles). This study suggests that habitat health may play an important role in structuring coral-associated fish assemblages.

KEY WORDS: Disturbance · Coral reef fishes · Coral health · Coral association · Pocillopora damicornis · Seriatopora hystrix

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