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Coral Reefs

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 279–293 | Cite as

The relative importance of regional, local, and evolutionary factors structuring cryptobenthic coral-reef assemblages

  • Gabby N. Ahmadia
  • Luke Tornabene
  • David J. Smith
  • Frank L. Pezold
Empirical article

Abstract

Factors shaping coral-reef fish species assemblages can operate over a wide range of spatial scales (local versus regional) and across both proximate and evolutionary time. Niche theory and neutral theory provide frameworks for testing assumptions and generating insights about the importance of local versus regional processes. Niche theory postulates that species assemblages are an outcome of evolutionary processes at regional scales followed by local-scale interactions, whereas neutral theory presumes that species assemblages are formed by largely random processes drawing from regional species pools. Indo-Pacific cryptobenthic coral-reef fishes are highly evolved, ecologically diverse, temporally responsive, and situated on a natural longitudinal diversity gradient, making them an ideal group for testing predictions from niche and neutral theories and effects of regional and local processes on species assemblages. Using a combination of ecological metrics (fish density, diversity, assemblage composition) and evolutionary analyses (testing for phylogenetic niche conservatism), we demonstrate that the structure of cryptobenthic fish assemblages can be explained by a mixture of regional factors, such as the size of regional species pools and broad-scale barriers to gene flow/drivers of speciation, coupled with local-scale factors, such as the relative abundance of specific microhabitat types. Furthermore, species of cryptobenthic fishes have distinct microhabitat associations that drive significant differences in assemblage community structure between microhabitat types, and these distinct microhabitat associations are phylogenetically conserved over evolutionary timescales. The implied differential fitness of cryptobenthic fishes across varied microhabitats and the conserved nature of their ecology are consistent with predictions from niche theory. Neutral theory predictions may still hold true for early life-history stages, where stochastic factors may be more important in explaining recruitment. Overall, through integration of ecological and evolutionary techniques, and using multiple spatial scales, our study offers a unique perspective on factors determining coral-reef fish assemblages.

Keywords

Neutral theory Niche theory Species assembly Phylogenetic niche conservatism Coral reefs Coral Triangle 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank Jocelyn Curtis-Quick, Dan Lazell, Iwan, Pippa Mansell, Laura Sheard, Conservation Society of Pohnpei, and Brian Lynch and students from the College of Micronesia for field assistance. We are grateful for the support of the staff at the Hoga Marine Research Center, Professor Jamal Jompa and the Universitas Hasanuddin, the Wakatobi Government, the Taman National Wakatobi, RISTEK, and the staff of the Gump Station in Moorea. Funding for field work was provided by Operation Wallacea, PADI Foundation Grant and AMNH Lerner-Gray Fund for Marine Research awarded to G.N.A. and by NSF OISE-0553910 to F.P.

Supplementary material

338_2018_1657_MOESM1_ESM.file (386 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (File 385 kb)
338_2018_1657_MOESM2_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 12 kb)
338_2018_1657_MOESM3_ESM.docx (253 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 253 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabby N. Ahmadia
    • 1
    • 2
  • Luke Tornabene
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • David J. Smith
    • 5
  • Frank L. Pezold
    • 2
  1. 1.Oceans Conservation, World Wildlife FundWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.College of Science and EngineeringTexas A&M University-Corpus ChristiCorpus ChristiUSA
  3. 3.School of Aquatic and Fishery SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Burke Museum of Natural History and CultureSeattleUSA
  5. 5.Coral Reef Research Unit, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of EssexColchesterUK

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