Marine infrastructure supports abundant, diverse fish assemblages at the expense of beta diversity
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Anthropogenic structures are increasingly common in natural environments and present novel habitats for resident organisms. Marine breakwalls are similar to natural reefs in that they also provide habitat for diverse assemblages of mobile animals. However, it is unclear if fish assemblages on these artificial structures differ from those on neighbouring natural reefs in ecologically important ways. In this study, we compared fish assemblages at breakwalls and natural reefs in three different regions along 530 km of the East Australian coast. We found that fish assemblages associated with breakwalls were more diverse than those associated with natural reefs in two of the three regions studied. The functional niches being filled were similar at both habitats, with the exception of a higher abundance of piscivores at some breakwalls. However, β diversity tended low on the homogenous breakwalls compared to more heterogeneous natural reefs and was significantly lower at one region. The habitat heterogeneity model suggests that structural alterations to the layout of infrastructure could contribute to improving their ecological effects, potentially increasing β diversity.
We thank Sophie Powel, Chris Hellyer, Marty Hing, Natasha Hardy, and Laura Sanchez Peregrín for invaluable assistance in the field. Sophie also contributed a huge amount of fish expertise to this project. The constructive feedback of two anonymous reviewers greatly improved this manuscript and their contribution is appreciated. Finally, thank you to the very professional marine rescue volunteers for the tow. Even the most seasoned experts come across trouble sometimes. This work was partially funded by NSW Environmental Trust Grant 2014/RD/0113. Kelaher BP, Smith S, Figueira W, Coleman M, and Byrne M. Maximising environmental outcomes of coastal infrastructure upgrades. This is contribution number 226 to the Sydney Institute of Marine Science Collection.
Compliance with ethical standards
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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