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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 410:219-231 (2010)  -  DOI:

Spatial patterns of the structure of reef fish assemblages at a pristine atoll in the central Pacific

Alan M. Friedlander1,*, Stuart A. Sandin2, Edward E. DeMartini3, Enric Sala4,5

1Hawaii Cooperative Fishery Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA
2Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, San Diego, California 92093-0202, USA
3NOAA Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, 99-193 Aiea Heights Drive, Suite 417, Aiea, Hawaii 96701, USA
4Centre d’Estudis Avançats de Blanes, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 17300 Blanes, Spain
5National Geographic Society, Washington, DC 20036, USA

ABSTRACT: We conducted in situ diver surveys describing the spatial structure of reef fish assemblages at Kingman Reef, an unexploited and remote atoll in the central North Pacific. Structural patterns reflect natural ecological processes that are not influenced by fishing or other anthropogenic factors. The most striking feature of this assemblage is an inverted biomass pyramid dominated by apex predators, primarily sharks and large snappers, across all depth and habitat strata examined. This pattern is most pronounced at greater depths (20 m) on the fore reef. Apex predators dominated to lesser extents in back-reef, patch-reef, and shallow fore-reef habitats. Prey assemblage size spectra showed fewer large prey and greater numbers of prey from small size classes at locations with greater piscivore biomass. Other patterns of prey abundance generally conformed to those previously observed at more commonly encountered, human-altered reefs (e.g. highest herbivore abundance on back reefs and shallower depths on the fore reefs; greater planktivore prevalence deeper on the fore reef). The latter patterns, however, inadvertently miss the less obvious differences in assemblage dynamics that result from alterations in the size structures of prey fish populations where apex predators have been heavily exploited or extirpated. The present study of a fully intact coral reef suggests that (1) piscivores are common across all habitats and depths, (2) the presence of predators does not lead to appreciable reductions in the biomass of other guilds, and (3) predators alter the size structure and therefore the potential productivity and energy flow of the ecosystem.

KEY WORDS: Predator-dominated ecosystem · Pristine atoll · Fish assemblage structure · Kingman Reef · Zonation

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Cite this article as: Friedlander AM, Sandin SA, DeMartini EE, Sala E (2010) Spatial patterns of the structure of reef fish assemblages at a pristine atoll in the central Pacific. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 410:219-231.

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