Habitat preferences of a corallivorous reef fish: predation risk versus food quality
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Many animals preferentially select a habitat from a range of those potentially available. However, the consequences of these preferences for distribution and abundance, and the underlying basis of habitat preferences are often unknown. The present study, conducted at Great Keppel Island, Australia, examined how distribution and abundance of an obligate corallivorous filefish, Oxymonacanthus longirostris, relates to coral architecture and diversity. The main drivers of the distribution and abundance of O. longirostris among reefs were coral species richness and availability of branching coral. Feeding territories had a higher percentage of Acropora coral than surrounding habitat. In addition, feeding territories had a higher percentage of the structurally important branching coral, Acropora nobilis, and a primary prey species, Acropora millepora. A series of pair-wise choice experiments in which both structural complexity and coral tissue quality were independently manipulated showed that habitat choice was primarily based on structural complexity and shelter characteristics. In addition, the choice for the preferred coral (A. nobilis) was stronger in the presence of a piscivorous fish. These results indicate that species-diverse coral habitats, which provide sufficient structural complexity along with nutritionally important prey, are essential for population persistence of this small, corallivorous reef fish.
KeywordsCoral reef fish Oxymonacanthus longirostris Habitat selection Acropora Corallivory Predation risk Food quality
We wish to thank Lizard Island Research Station, Reef HQ aquarium, and members of the Jones and Munday laboratories for assistance. Financial support was provided by the Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility (MTSRF) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. The work described above corresponds to the laws and regulations of Australia under GBRMPA permit G10.33757.1 and animal ethics permit A1399.
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