, Volume 144, Issue 6, pp 1065-1073
Date: 23 Jan 2004

Habitat and reef-fish assemblages of banks in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

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Abstract

The moderately deep terraces and banks of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) were surveyed to describe their habitat and reef-fish assemblages. These tracts of bottom at 30–40 m comprise more than 4,500 km2 of the region’s reef area. The habitat was found to be dominated by algal meadows (65% cover of exposed bottom), with infrequent relief features. Annual monitoring of select stations for 4 years at Necker Bank indicated that the relative difference in algal abundance between stations persisted from year to year (at least in summer). Temperature records from year-long deployments of archival thermistors in high-cover (>70%) and low-cover (<30%) algal biotopes were indistinguishable, providing no explanation of the algal differences between stations. At all banks, Microdictyon was the primary alga, averaging 1.22 kg/m2. In spite of the extensive standing primary production, and a historical lack of fishing, bank reef-fish populations were impoverished. Mean densities, sizes, and biomass of trophic groups were considerably less than values reported for NWHI reef shallows. An overall mean biomass was estimated at 22.5 g/m2, which is a fifth of that reported for shallow reefs of the region. Fish biomass of all trophic groups was associated with the few sources of relief available on the banks. Apex predators (sharks, jacks, and snappers), common on all surveys (with a mean of five per station), were proposed to constrain fish populations to sparse sources of relief resulting in a skewed size structure of the two primary fish trophic components. Sizes of lower-level carnivores were tightly correlated with sources of relief whereas the size of herbivores were not, indicating that herbivores more often venture out and risk the exposed algal meadows. These bank summits are a rare example of a near pristine reef system with high benthic primary productivity and low fish biomass, and are a stark contrast to shallower coral-reef ecosystems of the NWHI.

Communicated by P.W. Sammarco, Chauvin