Original Paper

Marine Biology

, Volume 159, Issue 12, pp 2787-2796

First online:

How well do sunken vessels approximate fish assemblages on coral reefs? Conservation implications of vessel-reef deployments

  • A. M. FowlerAffiliated withFish Ecology Laboratory, School of the Environment, University of Technology Sydney Email author 
  • , D. J. BoothAffiliated withFish Ecology Laboratory, School of the Environment, University of Technology Sydney

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The amount of artificial habitat (termed ‘artificial reef’, AR) in marine systems is rapidly increasing, yet the effect of most types of AR on reef communities remains unknown. We examined the role of well-established vessel-reefs in structuring coral reef fish assemblages by comparing assemblages on 7 World War II wrecks (>65 years old) to those on interspersed coral patch reefs of comparable size in a tropical lagoon. Fish abundance, species richness, diversity and feeding guild structure on wrecks were similar to natural reefs; however, species composition differed between the two reef types (R = 0.189–0.341, average dissimilarity: 67.3–68.8 %). Despite being more species-rich and diverse, fish assemblages on larger wrecks were less similar to assemblages on their adjacent natural reefs than smaller wrecks. Wrecks may also have affected fish abundance on adjacent natural reefs, with reefs adjacent to larger wrecks supporting higher abundances than reefs adjacent to smaller wrecks. Our results indicate that increases in vessel-reef habitat may not greatly affect reef fish assemblage parameters, but may affect the relative abundances of particular species.