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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 656:181-192 (2020)  -  DOI:

Ecological engineering across organismal scales: trophic-mediated positive effects of microhabitat enhancement on fishes

Daisuke Taira1, Eliza C. Heery1,2, Lynette H. L. Loke1,3, Aaron Teo1, Andrew G. Bauman1, Peter A. Todd1,*

1Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Singapore 117543, Singapore
2Present address: Friday Harbor Laboratories, University of Washington, Friday Harbor, WA 98250, USA
3Present address: Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
*Corresponding author:
Advance View was available online October 22, 2020; subsequently updated October 26, 2020

ABSTRACT: Retrofitting microhabitat features is a common ecological engineering technique for enhancing biodiversity and abundance of small, epilithic organisms on artificial shorelines by providing refuge spaces and/or ameliorating abiotic conditions. These features are typically too small to be utilised as refugia by larger, highly motile consumers such as fish, but they may affect these organisms through other mechanisms. This study sought to determine whether microhabitat enhancement units alter the fish abundance, richness and assemblage composition on tropical seawalls and explores possible underlying trophic mechanisms. We created 12 experimental plots consisting of 6 enhanced plots, each with 20 microhabitat enhancement tiles, and 6 control plots without tiles on intertidal seawalls at Pulau Hantu, an offshore island south of mainland Singapore. Benthic cover and fish assemblage were surveyed within each plot using photoquadrats and underwater video cameras, respectively, from April 2018 to February 2019. We found greater abundance and species richness and distinct assemblages of fish in the enhanced plots compared to the control plots. These differences were driven largely by an increase in both abundance and richness of fish species with epibenthic-feeding strategies and were significantly associated with higher biotic cover in the enhanced plots, especially epilithic algal matrix (EAM). Our results indicate that, in addition to facilitating epilithic organisms, microhabitat enhancement can provide food resources for epibenthic-feeding fishes, increase fish biodiversity, and alter fish assemblages in tropical urbanised shorelines.

KEY WORDS: Fish diversity · Fish feeding · Eco-engineering · Coastal defences · Marine urbanisation · Epilithic algal matrix

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Cite this article as: Taira D, Heery EC, Loke LHL, Teo A, Bauman AG, Todd PA (2020) Ecological engineering across organismal scales: trophic-mediated positive effects of microhabitat enhancement on fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 656:181-192.

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