Coral Reefs

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 157–166 | Cite as

Depth distribution and abundance of a coral-associated reef fish: roles of recruitment and post-recruitment processes

  • Patrick F. Smallhorn-West
  • Tom C. L. Bridge
  • Philip L. Munday
  • Geoffrey P. Jones


The abundance of many reef fish species varies with depth, but the demographic processes influencing this pattern remain unclear. Furthermore, while the distribution of highly specialized reef fish often closely matches that of their habitat, it is unclear whether changes in distribution patterns over depth are the result of changes in habitat availability or independent depth-related changes in population parameters such as recruitment and mortality. Here, we show that depth-related patterns in the distribution of the coral-associated goby, Paragobiodon xanthosoma, are strongly related to changes in recruitment and performance (growth and survival). Depth-stratified surveys showed that while the coral host, Seriatopora hystrix, extended into deeper water (>20 m), habitat use by P. xanthosoma declined with depth and both adult and juvenile P. xanthosoma were absent below 20 m. Standardization of S. hystrix abundance at three depths (5, 15 and 30 m) demonstrated that recruitment of P. xanthosoma was not determined by the availability of its habitat. Reciprocal transplantation of P. xanthosoma to S. hystrix colonies among three depths (5, 15 and 30 m) then established that individual performance (survival and growth) was lowest in deeper water; mortality was three times higher and growth greatly reduced in individuals transplanted to 30 m. Individuals collected from 15 m also exhibited growth rates 50% lower than fish from shallow depths. These results indicate that the depth distribution of this species is limited not by the availability of its coral habitat, but by demographic costs associated with living in deeper water.


Recruitment Survival Growth Habitat availability Paragobiodon Seriatopora 



We are grateful to the traditional owners of the Tamare-Kilu reefs for allowing us access to their reefs and thank the Mahonia na Dari Research and Conservation Centre for field support. Also thank you to Sophie Gordon, Jessica Roeger, Jacob Eurich and Lisa Boström Einarsson for field assistance and Pim Bongaerts and Maya Srinivasan for logistical support. Funding was provided by a research allocation to G.P. Jones from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick F. Smallhorn-West
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tom C. L. Bridge
    • 2
    • 3
  • Philip L. Munday
    • 2
  • Geoffrey P. Jones
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Marine and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Queensland MuseumTownsvilleAustralia

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