Marine Biology

, 163:158 | Cite as

Depth and habitat determine assemblage structure of South Africa’s warm-temperate reef fish

  • E. R. Heyns-VealeEmail author
  • A. T. F. Bernard
  • N. B. Richoux
  • D. Parker
  • T. J. Langlois
  • E. S. Harvey
  • A. Götz
Original paper


Depth and habitat are important predictors of fish assemblage structure, yet current no-take marine protected area (MPA) networks are generally limited to providing refuge for fish species that inhabit shallow waters and may exclude deep habitats essential to exploited populations. To ensure MPA efficacy at the design, uptake and management levels, baseline data on fish populations associated with deep nearshore reefs are needed. This study employed baited remote underwater stereo-video systems to investigate fish habitat associations at shallow (11–25 m) and deep (45–75 m) reef sites in the Tsitsikamma National Park MPA, South Africa. The compositions of fish assemblages at shallow and deep reef sites were significantly different. Specifically, rare species, juveniles and low trophic level species dominated the shallow reef, while deep reef assemblages were characterised by large, sexually mature and predatory fish. The body size of abundant species was also correlated with depth, with larger individuals being more abundant on deeper reefs. Habitat types were identified according to a habitat classification system established in a previous study, which resulted in four broad depth separated habitat types (defined by macrobenthos and environmental variables). Canonical analysis of principle coordinates (CAP) indicated that habitat type was a good categorical predictor of the observed fish assemblages. The CAP analysis determined that 86 % of the samples were correctly assigned to the habitat type from which they were collected, indicating that specific fish assemblages were associated with distinct habitat types. This study highlights the importance of protecting both shallow and deep reefs, not only to ensure the conservation of particular fish assemblages, but also to provide protection for all stages of the life cycle of fish species.


Habitat Type Fish Assemblage Reef Fish Marine Protected Area Reef Site 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Funding for this project was provided by the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the Elwandle Node of the South African Environmental Observation Network, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme and the British Ecological Society. We thank SANParks, in particular Kyle Smith, CapeNature and Laura Fullwood for their assistance in the field and Angus Paterson for his constructive comments.

Supplementary material

227_2016_2933_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (529 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 528 kb)
227_2016_2933_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (579 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 579 kb)
227_2016_2933_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (412 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 411 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. R. Heyns-Veale
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • A. T. F. Bernard
    • 1
    • 2
  • N. B. Richoux
    • 1
  • D. Parker
    • 3
    • 4
  • T. J. Langlois
    • 5
  • E. S. Harvey
    • 6
  • A. Götz
    • 3
    • 7
  1. 1.Department of Zoology and EntomologyRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB)GrahamstownSouth Africa
  3. 3.South African Environmental Observation Network, Elwandle NodeGrahamstownSouth Africa
  4. 4.Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries ScienceRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  5. 5.The UWA Oceans Institute and School of Plant Biology, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  6. 6.Department of Environment and AgricultureCurtin UniversityBentleyAustralia
  7. 7.Zoology DepartmentNelson Mandela Metropolitan UniversityPort ElizabethSouth Africa

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