Coral Reefs

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 449–457

Morphological structure in a reef fish assemblage



Two key morphological traits, horizontal gape and eye diameter, were measured in a large representative group of coral reef fishes. These morphological traits were used concurrently to assess their utility in exploring abilities of coral reef fishes at an assemblage level. A total of 1,218 specimens from 181 species found on the Great Barrier Reef were examined. Cryptobenthic fishes were included to provide a broader representation of reef fish groups. In the analyses, a clear morphological distinction was found between nocturnal and diurnal fishes. Nocturnal fishes had larger relative horizontal gapes and relative eye diameters by factors of 1.6 and 1.5, respectively. A bivariate plot separated into quadrants was used to assess the implications of morphological variation. The morphological measures reflected distinct ecological traits in each quadrant. Whilst nocturnal fishes had large relative gapes and eye diameters, diurnal predators and detritivores had the same wide gapes, but small relative eye diameters. Highly selective, visual feeders such as the Chaetodontidae and Pseudochromidae had large eyes and small gapes, whilst non-selective feeders with low visual dependence such as the grazing herbivores (Acanthuridae, Siganidae, etc.) had both small eye diameters and gape sizes. The analysis proved to be robust enough to apply to a wide assemblage, but with enough subtlety to distinguish morphological differences within individual families. The methods used in this study may have broad applications to other fish assemblages, both fossil and extant.


Morphology Reef fish assemblage Great Barrier Reef Ecological morphology 

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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