Does habitat availability determine geographical-scale abundances of coral-dwelling fishes?
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The role of local-scale processes in determining large-scale patterns of abundance is a key issue in ecology. To test whether habitat use determines local and large-scale patterns of abundance of obligate coral-dwelling fishes (genus Gobiodon), the author compared habitat availability with the abundance of four species, G. axillaris, G. brochus, G. histrio, and G. quinquestrigatus, among four locations, from the southern Great Barrier Reef to northern Papua New Guinea. Habitat availability, measured at tens of meters, explained 47–65% of the variation in abundance of these species among geographic locations spanning over 2,000 km. Therefore, local-scale patterns of habitat use appear to determine much larger-scale patterns of abundance in these habitat-specialist fish. The abundances of all species, except G. brochus, were also closely associated with particular exposure regimes, independently of the abundance of corals. Broad-scale habitat selection for reef types within locations can most easily explain this pattern. The abundances of all species, except G. brochus, also varied among geographic locations, independently of coral abundances. Therefore, the abundances of these species are influenced by either geographic variation in local-scale processes that was not measured, or additional processes acting at very large spatial scales.
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