Coral Reefs

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 561–575 | Cite as

Relationships between structural complexity, coral traits, and reef fish assemblages

  • Emily S. Darling
  • Nicholas A. J. Graham
  • Fraser A. Januchowski-Hartley
  • Kirsty L. Nash
  • Morgan S. Pratchett
  • Shaun K. Wilson


With the ongoing loss of coral cover and the associated flattening of reef architecture, understanding the links between coral habitat and reef fishes is of critical importance. Here, we investigate whether considering coral traits and functional diversity provides new insights into the relationship between structural complexity and reef fish communities, and whether coral traits and community composition can predict structural complexity. Across 157 sites in Seychelles, Maldives, the Chagos Archipelago, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, we find that structural complexity and reef zone are the strongest and most consistent predictors of reef fish abundance, biomass, species richness, and trophic structure. However, coral traits, diversity, and life histories provided additional predictive power for models of reef fish assemblages, and were key drivers of structural complexity. Our findings highlight that reef complexity relies on living corals—with different traits and life histories—continuing to build carbonate skeletons, and that these nuanced relationships between coral assemblages and habitat complexity can affect the structure of reef fish assemblages. Seascape-level estimates of structural complexity are rapid and cost effective with important implications for the structure and function of fish assemblages, and should be incorporated into monitoring programs.


Habitat diversity Species traits Functional ecology Reef architecture Scleractinian corals Coral reef fish 



We thank Sally Keith for providing species lists for Indo-Pacific provinces. ESD was supported by a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship from the Cedar Tree Foundation, a Banting Fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. NAJG was supported by the Australian Research Council and a Royal Society University Research Fellowship. Field work in the Seychelles was supported by the Seychelles Fishing Authority, Seychelles National Parks Authority, Nature Seychelles, and Global Vision International. We thank the reviewers and Editor for suggestions that substantially improved earlier versions of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

338_2017_1539_MOESM1_ESM.docx (4.6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 4742 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily S. Darling
    • 1
    • 2
  • Nicholas A. J. Graham
    • 3
    • 4
  • Fraser A. Januchowski-Hartley
    • 5
  • Kirsty L. Nash
    • 6
    • 7
  • Morgan S. Pratchett
    • 4
  • Shaun K. Wilson
    • 8
    • 9
  1. 1.Marine Program, Wildlife Conservation SocietyBronxUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Lancaster Environment CentreLancaster UniversityLancasterUK
  4. 4.ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  5. 5.IRD UMR 9190 MARBEC, IRD-CNRS-IFREMER-UMUniversité de MontpellierMontpellierFrance
  6. 6.Centre for Marine SocioecologyHobartAustralia
  7. 7.Institute of Marine and Antarctic StudiesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  8. 8.Marine Science Program, Department of Parks and WildlifeKensingtonAustralia
  9. 9.Oceans InstituteUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

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