Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 94, Issue 2, pp 431–442

The effectiveness of different meso-scale rugosity metrics for predicting intra-habitat variation in coral-reef fish assemblages

  • Alastair R. Harborne
  • Peter J. Mumby
  • Renata Ferrari

DOI: 10.1007/s10641-011-9956-2

Cite this article as:
Harborne, A.R., Mumby, P.J. & Ferrari, R. Environ Biol Fish (2012) 94: 431. doi:10.1007/s10641-011-9956-2


Habitat structure is frequently an important variable affecting species’ abundances and diversity, and identifying the key aspects and spatial scales of habitat complexity is critical for understanding the ecology and conservation of a range of communities. Many coral-reef fishes are intimately linked with benthic habitat structure, and previous research has demonstrated rugosity as an important predictive variable of assemblage parameters. However, these studies typically consider rugosity at small scales, amalgamate multiple habitat features, or are semi-quantitative. This study considers meso-scale rugosity (within 51 plots of 25 m2 on a Belizean forereef) generated by varying coral densities, heights, and complexities. Seven rugosity metrics were calculated for each plot, and were regressed against each of 11 fish assemblage parameters. Intra-habitat variability of each fish parameter was significantly positively or curvilinearly correlated to at least one metric of meso-scale rugosity, but the metric generating the strongest correlation varied. The abundance of small fishes, and consequently most of the assemblage statistics (e.g., total fish abundance and diversity) were best predicted by the number of tall (>50 cm) corals. The abundance of damselfishes, parrotfish biomass, the abundances of medium-sized and large fishes, and total fish biomass were curvilinearly related to mean coral height. The abundances of wrasses and surgeonfishes were most strongly correlated with the number of corals within a plot. Because coral-generated meso-scale rugosity is an important factor influencing intra-habitat variation in fishes, it should be explicitly considered when investigating fish-habitat relationships and predicting the impacts of coral mortality on ecosystem processes and services.


Belize Coral reef Fish ecology Habitat complexity Spatial scale 

Supplementary material

10641_2011_9956_MOESM1_ESM.doc (34 kb)
Online resource 1List of the complexity values attributed to each coral species recorded during the study (DOC 34 kb)
10641_2011_9956_MOESM2_ESM.doc (88 kb)
Online resource 2The 63 fish species recorded within the fifty one 25 m2 plots surveyed during the study and their mean abundances. Figures in parentheses represent standard error. (DOC 87 kb)
10641_2011_9956_MOESM3_ESM.doc (72 kb)
Online resource 3Full details of the coefficients for the model that best (highest R2, lowest AIC) explains the intra-habitat variation in the 11 fish community parameters examined in this study. *** = P < 0.001, ** = P < 0.01, * = P < 0.05, (*) = marginal significance (DOC 72 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alastair R. Harborne
    • 1
    • 2
  • Peter J. Mumby
    • 2
  • Renata Ferrari
    • 2
  1. 1.Marine Spatial Ecology Laboratory, Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Hatherly LaboratoryUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  2. 2.Marine Spatial Ecology Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences, Goddard BuildingUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia