Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 169–179

The influence of plant cover on surfperch abundance at an offshore temperate reef

  • Alfred W. Ebeling
  • David R. Laur
Full paper

DOI: 10.1007/BF00005148

Cite this article as:
Ebeling, A.W. & Laur, D.R. Environ Biol Fish (1985) 12: 169. doi:10.1007/BF00005148


At an offshore reef near Santa Barbara, southern California, young-of-year (‘young’) of five surfperch species (Embiotocidae: Embiotoca jacksoni, E. lateralis, Hypsurus caryi, Rhacochilus toxotes, Damalichthys vacca) once thrived in a dense kelp understory of Pterygophora californica and Laminaria farlowii, but disappeared after a severe storm in February, 1980 deforested their habitat. Measurements of fish density and kelp cover made before deforestation indicated that the young surfperch appeared in the spring and disappeared in the fall as cover increased and declined. Adult surfperch and large kelp bass (Paralabrax clathratus), which can eat young but not adult surfperch, remained all year. We tested to see if kelp cover was an essential refuge for the young by pruning back (‘thinning’) kelp blades from one of two transects. The thinning caused a significant redistribution of young which clearly avoided open spaces, but not of adults which are less vulnerable to predation. Measurements of fish density made after the storm-induced deforestation showed that adult surfperch and kelp bass still remained abundant even after the young surfperch were gone. Only after an abrupt reforestation in 1983, more than a year after the present study was terminated, were young once again seen on the reef. Although young surfperch may seek tiny prey living on kelp blades, most lines of evidence indicated that the distribution of the young is more a response to risk of predation. Hence the extent of kelp understory was probably the main determinant of the survival of young surfperch on the reef.


California Carrying capacity Embiotocidae Fish migrations Juvenile fish Kelp understory Microhabitat Nursery grounds Predation Refugia Storm disturbance 

Copyright information

© Dr W. Junk Publishers 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alfred W. Ebeling
    • 1
  • David R. Laur
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological Sciences and Marine Science InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraU.S.A.

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