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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 553:163-172 (2016)  -  DOI:

Coral colony size and structure as determinants of habitat use and fitness of coral-dwelling fishes

Pedro Henrique Cipresso Pereira*, Philip L. Munday

College of Marine and Environmental Sciences and ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Competition for space affects patterns of habitat use and individual performance of coral-dwelling fishes; however, the physical attributes of corals that influence habitat preferences are uncertain. In this study, we investigated the influence of coral colony size and branching structure of 2 coral species, Acropora nasuta and Acropora spathulata, on habitat use and growth rate of 2 coral gobies, Gobiodon histrio and G. erythrospilus. First, we examined 2 key aspects of coral colony structure (interbranch depth and interbranch width) that may influence habitat preferences. We then used laboratory and field-based experiments to test the effects of coral species, coral colony size and branching structure on habitat preference and growth rates of G. histrio and G. erythrospilus. The preferred coral species, A. nasuta, had smaller interbranch width than A. spathulata. A binary-choice laboratory experiment demonstrated that both goby species preferred coral colonies with smaller interbranch width, except when they had the opportunity to occupy A. nasuta over A. spathulata. A field transplant experiment showed that both goby species grew faster on larger coral colonies and in colonies with smaller interbranch width. G. erythrospilus grew faster than G. histrio on A. spathulata, indicating that it suffers less fitness loss when occupying this alternative habitat. Our results show that coral physical attributes are important factors driving habitat preference of coral-dwelling gobies; however, there must also be additional factors that influence their habitat use. Declining average coral size and reduced habitat complexity on coral reefs could have significant impacts on the performance of fishes, affecting ecological processes such as competition.

KEY WORDS: Habitat complexity · Competition · Growth rate · Goby · Gobiodon spp. · Acropora spp.

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Cite this article as: Pereira PHC, Munday PL (2016) Coral colony size and structure as determinants of habitat use and fitness of coral-dwelling fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 553:163-172.

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