Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Contrasting effects of habitat complexity and connectivity on biodiversity in seagrass meadows


Variability in habitat positioning within seascapes (over kilometres) influences fauna assemblage composition, but the characteristics of a habitat patch (10–100s of metres) influence how species use that patch and how variable assemblages are within habitats. Understanding the relative influence of these two contrasting scales is crucial to improving the management of marine habitats. We used baited remote underwater video systems (BRUVS) to quantify seagrass fish assemblages, and took seagrass cores to quantify seagrass metrics, at ten sites across three seasons in Moreton Bay, Australia to determine if fish are influenced more by seascape context or metrics of seagrass habitat complexity. We found that fish species richness and assemblage composition are most influenced by large-scale variability in seascape (e.g. proximity to ocean and mangroves). However, variability in habitat complexity (e.g. seagrass blade length and density) and proximity to mangrove forests had the greatest effect on assemblage beta diversity. Connectivity with other habitats plays a vital role in structuring the fish community, as it is crucial for daily feeding excursions (mangrove forests) and spawning/reproduction (proximity to ocean). Continuous, non-patchy seagrass beds are however vital to how individuals use a seagrass meadow, with beta diversity being higher in seagrass meadows that were less patchy. Identifying how habitat attributes and context influence fish assemblages is vital for optimizing conservation initiatives. Therefore, we suggest that monitoring populations with biodiversity metrics such as beta diversity can be effective in determining areas that are critical for conservation.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. Anderson MJ, Santana-Garcon J (2015) Measures of precision for dissimilarity-based multivariate analysis of ecological communities. Ecol Lett 18:66–73

  2. Anderson MJ, Willis TJ (2003) Canonical analysis of principal coordinates: a useful method of constrained ordination for ecology. Ecology 84:511–525

  3. Anderson MJ, Ellingsen KE, McArdle BH (2006) Multivariate dispersion as a measure of beta diversity. Ecol Lett 9:683–693

  4. Anderson MJ, Crist TO, Chase JM, Vellend M, Inouye BD, Freestone AL, Sanders NJ, Cornell HV, Comita LS, Davies KF (2011) Navigating the multiple meanings of β diversity: a roadmap for the practicing ecologist. Ecol Lett 14:19–28

  5. Bartoń K (2013) MuMIn: Multi-model inference. In: R package version 1.9. 13. The comprehensive R archive network (CRAN), Vienna, Austria

  6. Barboza LGA, Mormul RP, Higuti J (2015) Beta diversity as a tool for determining priority streams for management actions. Water Sci Technol 71:1429–1435

  7. Bell JD, Steffe AS, Westoby M (1988) Location of seagrass beds in estuaries: effects on associated fish and decapods. J Exp Mar Bio Ecol 122:127–146

  8. Bennett JR, Gilbert B (2016) Contrasting beta diversity among regions: how do classical and multivariate approaches compare? Global Ecol Biogeogr 25:368–377

  9. Bernard A, Götz A (2012) Bait increases the precision in count data from remote underwater video for most subtidal reef fish in the warm-temperate Agulhas bioregion. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 471:235–252

  10. Boström C, Jackson EL, Simenstad CA (2006) Seagrass landscapes and their effects on associated fauna: a review. Estuar Coast Shelf S 68:383–403

  11. Boström C, Pittman SJ, Simenstad C, Kneib RT (2011) Seascape ecology of coastal biogenic habitats: advances, gaps, and challenges. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 427:191–217

  12. Burnham K, Anderson D (2002) Information and likelihood theory: a basis for model selection and inference. Model Sel Multimodel Inference Pract Inf Theor Approach 2:49–97

  13. Clarke K, Ainsworth M (1993) A method of linking multivariate community. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 92:205–219

  14. Cloern JE (2007) Habitat connectivity and ecosystem productivity: implications from a simple model. Am Nat 169:21–33

  15. Connolly RM, Hindell JS (2006) Review of nekton patterns and ecological processes in seagrass landscapes. Estuar Coast Shelf S 68:433–444

  16. Díaz ER, Erlandsson J, Westerbom M, Kraufvelin P (2015) Depth-related spatial patterns of sublittoral blue mussel beds and their associated macrofaunal diversity revealed by geostatistical analyses. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 540:121–134

  17. Ford JR, Williams RJ, Fowler AM, Cox DR, Suthers IM (2010) Identifying critical estuarine seagrass habitat for settlement of coastally spawned fish. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 408:181–193

  18. Gibbes B, Grinham A, Neil D, Olds A, Maxwell P, Connolly R, Weber T, Udy N, Udy J (2014) Moreton Bay and its estuaries: a sub-tropical system under pressure from rapid population growth. Estuaries of Australia in 2050 and beyond. Springer, Netherlands, pp 203–222

  19. Gilby BL, Maxwell PS, Tibbetts IR, Stevens T (2015) Bottom-up factors for algal productivity outweigh no-fishing marine protected area effects in a marginal coral reef system. Ecosystems 18:1–14

  20. Gilby BL, Tibbetts IR, Olds AD, Maxwell PS, Stevens T (2016) Seascape context and predators override water quality effects on inshore coral reef fish communities. Coral Reefs 35:1–12

  21. Graham NAJ, Nash KL (2012) The importance of structural complexity in coral reef ecosystems. Coral Reefs 32:1–12

  22. Gullström M, Bodin M, Nilsson PG, Ohman MC (2008) Seagrass structural complexity and landscape configuration as determinants of tropical fish assemblage composition. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 363:241–255

  23. Harvey ES, Cappo M, Butler JJ, Hall N, Kendrick GA (2007) Bait attraction affects the performance of remote underwater video stations in assessment of demersal fish community structure. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 350:245–254

  24. Henderson CJ, Olds AD, Lee SY, Gilby BL, Maxwell PS, Connolly RM, Stevens T (2017) Marine reserves and seascape context shape fish assemblages in seagrass ecosystems. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 566:135–144

  25. Irlandi EA, Crawford MK (1997) Habitat linkages: the effect of intertidal saltmarshes and adjacent subtidal habitats on abundance, movement, and growth of an estuarine fish. Oecologia 110:222–230

  26. Jiang Y, Xu G, Xu H (2015) Use of multivariate dispersion to assess water quality based on species composition data. Environ Sci Pollut R 23:3267–3272

  27. Jungerstam J, Erlandsson J, McQuaid CD, Porri F, Westerbom M, Kraufvelin P (2014) Is habitat amount important for biodiversity in rocky shore systems? A study of South African mussel assemblages. Mar Biol 161:1507–1519

  28. Kimirei IA, Nagelkerken I, Griffioen B, Wagner C, Mgaya YD (2011) Ontogenetic habitat use by mangrove/seagrass-associated coral reef fishes shows flexibility in time and space. Estuar Coast Shelf S 92:47–58

  29. Lindenmayer DB, Margules CR, Botkin DB (2000) Indicators of biodiversity for ecologically sustainable forest management. Conserv Biol 14:941–950

  30. Malcolm H, Gladstone W, Lindfield S, Wraith J, Lynch T (2007) Spatial and temporal variation in reef fish assemblages of marine parks in New South Wales, Australia - baited video observations. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 350:277–290

  31. Massol F, Gravel D, Mouquet N, Cadotte MW, Fukami T, Leibold MA (2011) Linking community and ecosystem dynamics through spatial ecology. Ecol Lett 14:313–323

  32. Maxwell PS, Pitt KA, Burfeind DD, Olds AD, Babcock RC, Connolly RM (2014) Phenotypic plasticity promotes persistence following severe events: physiological and morphological responses of seagrass to flooding. J Ecol 102:54–64

  33. McElhinny C, Gibbons P, Brack C, Bauhus J (2005) Forest and woodland stand structural complexity: its definition and measurement. Forest Ecol Manag 218:1–24

  34. Munday PL, Jones GP, Pratchett MS, Williams AJ (2008) Climate change and the future for coral reef fishes. Fish Fish 9:261–285

  35. Nagelkerken I, van der Velde G, Gorissen MW, Meijer GJ, Van’t Hof T, den Hartog C (2000) Importance of mangroves, seagrass beds and the shallow coral reef as a nursery for important coral reef fishes, using a visual census technique. Estuar Coast Shelf S 51:31–44

  36. Nagelkerken I, Kleijnen S, Klop T, van den Brand RACJ, Cocheret de la Morinière E, van der Velde G (2001) Dependence of Caribbean reef fishes on mangroves and seagrass beds as nursery habitats: a comparison of fish faunas between bays with and without mangroves/seagrass beds. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 214:225–235

  37. Olds AD, Connolly RM, Pitt KA, Maxwell PS (2012) Primacy of seascape connectivity effects in structuring coral reef fish assemblages. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 462:191–203

  38. Olds AD, Connolly RM, Pitt KA, Pittman SJ, Maxwell PS, Huijbers CM, Moore BR, Albert S, Rissik D, Babcock RC, Schlacher TA (2016) Quantifying the conservation value of seascape connectivity: a global synthesis. Global Ecol Biogeogr 25:3–15

  39. Robbins BD, Bell SS (1994) Seagrass landscapes: a terrestrial approach to the marine subtidal environment. Trends Ecol Evol 9:301–304

  40. Rudnick D, Ryan S, Beier P, Cushman S, Dieffenbach F, Epps C, Gerber L, Hartter J, Jenness J, Kintsch J (2012) The role of landscape connectivity in planning and implementing conservation and restoration priorities. In: Issues in ecology. Ecological Society of America

  41. Santana-Garcon J, Newman SJ, Harvey ES (2014) Development and validation of a mid-water baited stereo-video technique for investigating pelagic fish assemblages. J Exp Mar Bio Ecol 452:82–90

  42. Sumpton W, Mayer D, Brown I, Sawynok B, McLennan M, Butcher A, Kirkwood J (2008) Investigation of movement and factors influencing post-release survival of line-caught coral reef fish using recreational tag-recapture data. Fish Res 92:189–195

  43. Turner MG (1989) Landscape ecology: the effect of pattern on process. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 20:171–197

  44. Unsworth RKF, Collier CJ, Waycott M, McKenzie LJ, Cullen-Unsworth LC (2015) A framework for the resilience of seagrass ecosystems. Mar Pollut Bull 100:34–46

  45. Ward Tockner (2001) Biodiversity: towards a unifying theme for river ecology. Freshw Biol 46:807–819

  46. Waycott M, Duarte CM, Carruthers TJ, Orth RJ, Dennison WC, Olyarnik S, Calladine A, Fourqurean JW, Heck KL, Hughes AR (2009) Accelerating loss of seagrasses across the globe threatens coastal ecosystems. P Natl Acad Sci 106:12377–12381

  47. Willis TJ, Babcock RC (2000) A baited underwater video system for the determination of relative density of carnivorous reef fish. Mar Freshwater Res 51:755–763

Download references


We would like to thank the staff of the Moreton Bay Research Station for their support with fieldwork and the Australian Rivers Institute and School of Environment at Griffith University for funding this project. We would like to acknowledge the comments from the anonymous reviewers and editor, which have thoroughly improved this manuscript.

Author information

Correspondence to Christopher J. Henderson.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest. All funding for the project were supplied from the Griffith University School of Environment as part of a postgraduate scholarship.

Ethical approval

All applicable institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. Ethical approval was under the Griffith University Animal Ethics Committee ENV/07/13 AEC.

Additional information

Reviewed by undisclosed experts.

Responsible Editor: P. Kraufvelin.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (PDF 91 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Henderson, C.J., Gilby, B.L., Lee, S.Y. et al. Contrasting effects of habitat complexity and connectivity on biodiversity in seagrass meadows. Mar Biol 164, 117 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-017-3149-2

Download citation


  • Coral Reef
  • Fish Community
  • Fish Assemblage
  • Mangrove Forest
  • Beta Diversity