Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 91, Issue 4, pp 429–448

Fish communities on staghorn coral: effects of habitat characteristics and resident farmerfishes

  • Michele K. Johnson
  • Sally J. Holbrook
  • Russell J. Schmitt
  • Andrew J. Brooks


Branching corals, like many in the genus Acropora, provide structurally complex habitats for reef fishes and other organisms. Fluctuations in the abundance, distribution and characteristics of thicket-forming staghorn Acroporids may contribute to changes in the abundance and species composition of reef fishes due to changes in the availability of shelter habitat and food. Farming damselfishes of the genus Stegastes can occur in high abundances in staghorn corals and actively defend food and nest space against organisms that threaten these resources. Here we assess the value of staghorn as habitat for fishes in the central South Pacific, and how the presence of territorial farming damselfishes may influence the assemblage of fishes that associate with staghorn corals. Surveys of 185 Acropora pulchra patches located in the lagoons surrounding the island of Moorea, French Polynesia revealed 85 species of fish from 25 families. Total fish abundance and species richness values ranged from no fish on a patch to a high of 275 individuals and 26 species. Patch area was the most important characteristic in explaining variation in attributes of the fish assemblage, with other characteristics explaining little of the species composition or trophic structure. Behavioral observations revealed that farming damselfishes were most aggressive toward corallivores, herbivores, and egg predators, while they ignored most carnivores and omnivores. Despite this pattern, we observed positive covariance between Stegastes and the group of fishes that elicited the strongest aggressive response when the effect of patch area was removed, suggesting these fishes remain drawn to the resources produced or enhanced by Stegastes on A. pulchra.


Fish communities Staghorn coral Acropora Farmerfish Stegastes Fish behavior Behavioral interactions 


  1. Adjeroud M (1997) Factors influencing spatial patterns on coral reefs around Moorea, French Polynesia. Mar Ecol Progr Ser 159:175–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ault TR, Johnson CR (1998) Spatially and temporally predictable fish communities on coral reefs. Ecol Monogr 68:25–50Google Scholar
  3. Bergman KC, Ohman MC, Svensson S (2000) Influence of habitat structure on Pomacentrus sulfurous, a western Indian Ocean reef fish. Environ Biol Fishes 59:243–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berumen ML, Pratchett MS (2006) Recovery without resilience: persistent disturbance and long-term shifts in the structure of fish and coral communities at Tiahura Reef, Moorea. Coral Reefs 25:647–653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brooks AJ, Holbrook SJ, Schmitt RJ (2007) Patterns of microhabitat use by fishes in the patch-forming coral Porites rus. Raffles Bull Zool 14:245–254Google Scholar
  6. Chesson J (1983) The estimation and analysis of preference and its relationship to foraging models. Ecology 64:1297–1304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Done TJ, Dayton PK, Dayton AE, Steger R (1991) Regional and local variability in recovery of shallow coral communities: Moorea, French Polynesia and central Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 9:183–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ebersole JP (1977) Adaptive significance of interspecific territoriality in the reef fish Eupomacentrus leucostictus. Ecology 58:914–920CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gleason MG (1996) Coral recruitment in Moorea, French Polynesia: The importance of patch type and temporal variation. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 207:79–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Glynn PW, Colgan MW (1988) Defense of corals and enhancement of coral diversity by territorial damselfish. Proc 6th Int Coral Reef Symp 2:157–164Google Scholar
  11. Gochfeld DJ (2010) Territorial damselfishes facilitate survival of corals by providing an associational defense against predators. Mar Ecol Progr Ser 398:137–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Google Inc (2009) Google Earth Version 5.1. Google Inc, Mountain ViewGoogle Scholar
  13. Gratwicke B, Speight MR (2005a) Effects of habitat complexity on Caribbean marine fish assemblages. Mar Ecol Progr Ser 292:301–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gratwicke B, Speight MR (2005b) The relationship between fish species richness, abundance and habitat complexity in a range of tropical habitats. J Fish Biol 66:650–667CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Haley MP, Muller CR (2002) Territorial behaviour of beaugregory damselfish (Stegastes leucostictus) in response to egg predators. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 273:151–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hata H, Kato M (2004) Monoculture and mixed-species algal farms on a coral reef are maintained through intensive and extensive management by damselfishes. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 313:285–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Holbrook SJ, Forrester GE, Schmitt RJ (2000) Spatial patterns in abundance of a damselfish reflect availability of suitable habitat. Oecologia 122:109–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Holbrook SJ, Brooks AJ, Schmitt RJ (2002a) Variation in structural attributes of patch-forming corals and in patterns of abundance of associated fishes. Mar Freshw Res 53:1045–1053CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Holbrook SJ, Brooks AJ, Schmitt RJ (2002b) Predictability of fish assemblages on coral patch reefs. Mar Freshw Res 53:181–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Holbrook SJ, Schmitt RJ, Brooks AJ (2008) Resistance and resilience of a coral reef fish community to changes in coral abundance. Mar Ecol Progr Ser 371:263–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Holt RD, Lawton JH, Polis GA, Martinez ND (1999) Trophic rank and the species-area relationship. Ecology 80:1495–1504Google Scholar
  22. Hutchinson GE, MacArthur RH (1959) A theoretical ecological model of size distributions among species of animals. Am Nat 93:117–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Itzkowitz M, Ludlow AM, Haley M (2000) Territorial boundaries of the male beaugregory damselfish. J Fish Biol 56:1138–1144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jan RQ, Ho CT, Shiah FJ (2003) Determinants of territory size of the dusky gregory. J Fish Biol 63:1589–1597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kane CN, Brooks AJ, Holbrook SJ, Schmitt RJ (2009) The role of microhabitat preference and social organization in determining the spatial distribution of a coral reef fish. Environ Biol Fishes 84:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Letourneur Y (2000) Spatial and temporal variability in territoriality of a tropical benthic damselfish on a coral reef (Reunion Island). Environ Biol Fishes 57:377–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lomolino MV (2001) The species-area relationship: new challenges for an old pattern. Prog Phys Geog 25:1–21Google Scholar
  28. Low RM (1971) Interspecific territoriality in a pomacentrid reef fish, Pomacentrus flavicauda Whitley. Ecology 52:648CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Luckhurst BE, Luckhurst K (1978) Analysis of influence of substrate variables on coral reef fish communities. Mar Biol 49:317–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mahoney BM (1981) An examination of interspecific territoriality in the dusky damselfish, Eupomacentrus dorsopunicans Poey. Bull Mar Sci 31:141–146Google Scholar
  31. May RM (1975) Island biogeography and design of wildlife preserves. Nature 254:177–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McClanahan TR, Arthur R (2001) The effect of marine reserves and habitat on populations of east African coral reef fishes. Ecol Appl 11:559–569CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McCune B, Mefford MJ (2006) PC-ORD. Multivariate Analysis of Ecological Data. Version 5.19. MjM Software, Gleneden BeachGoogle Scholar
  34. Munday PL, Jones GP, Caley MJ (1997) Habitat specialisation and the distribution and abundance of coral-dwelling gobies. Mar Ecol Progr Ser 152:227–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nanami A, Nishihira M (2004) Microhabitat association and temporal stability in reef fish assemblages on massive Porites microatolls. Ichthyol Res 51:165–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ormond RFG, Roberts JM, Jan RQ (1996) Behavioural differences in microhabitat use by damselfishes (Pomacentridae): implications for reef fish biodiveristy. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 202:85–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pratchett MS (2005) Dietary overlap among coral-feeding butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) at Lizard Island, northern Great Barrier Reef. Mar Biol 148:373–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pratchett MS (2007) Dietary selection by coral-feeding butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Raffles Bull Zool 14:171–176Google Scholar
  39. Precht WF, Aronson RB, Moody RM, Kaufman L (2010) Changing patterns of microhabitat utilization by the threespot damselfish, Stegastes planifrons, on Caribbean reefs. PLoS ONE 5(5):e10835PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Randall JE (2005) Reef and Shore Fishes of the South Pacific: New Caledonia to Tahiti and the Pitcairn Islands. University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, HIGoogle Scholar
  41. Robertson DR (1984) Cohabitation of competing territorial damselfishes on a Caribbean coral reef. Ecology 65:1121–1135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rosenzweig ML (1995) Species Diversity in Space and Time. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sale PF, Douglas WA (1984) Temporal variability in the community structure of fish on coral patch reefs and the relation of community structure to reef structure. Ecology 65:409–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sano M, Shimizu M, Nose Y (1987) Long-term effects of destruction of hermatypic corals by Acanthaster planci on reef fish communities at Iriomote Island, Japan. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 37:191–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. SAS Institute Inc (2005) SAS Version 9.1. SAS Institute Inc, CaryGoogle Scholar
  46. SAS Institute Inc (2007) JMP Version 7.0. SAS Institute Inc, CaryGoogle Scholar
  47. Schmitt RJ, Holbrook SJ, Osenberg CW (1999) Quantifying the effects of multiple processes on local abundance: a cohort approach for open populations. Ecol Lett 2:294–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schmitt RJ, Holbrook SJ, Brooks AJ, Lape JCP (2009) Intraguild predation and competition for enemy-free space: Distinguishing multiple predator from competitor effects in a structured habitat. Ecology 90:2434–2443PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Shepherd JG (1982) A versatile new stock-recruitment relationship for fisheries, and the construction of sustainable-yield curves. ICES J Mar Sci 40:67–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Shima JS (2001) Recruitment of a coral reef fish: Roles of settlement, habitat, and postsettlement losses. Ecology 82:2190–2199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Shulman MJ, Ogden JC, Ebersole JP, McFarland WN, Miller SL, Wolf NG (1983) Priority effects in the recruitment of juvenile coral reef fishes. Ecology 64:1508–1513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Syms C, Jones GP (2000) Disturbance, habitat structure, and the dynamics of a coral-reef fish community. Ecology 81:2714–2729CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wallace CC (1999) The Togian Islands: coral reefs with a unique coral fauna and an hypothesized Tethys Sea signature. Coral Reefs 18:162–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Warwick RM, Clarke KR (1984) Species size distributions in marine benthic communities. Oecologia 61:32–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wilkes AA, Cook MM, DiGirolamo AL, Eme J, Grim JM, Hohmann BC, Conner SL, McGill CJ, Pomory CM, Bennett WA (2008) A comparison of damselfish densities on live staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) and coral rubble in Dry Tortugas National Park. Southeastern Naturalist 7:483–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Williamson MH (1981) Island Populations. Oxford University Press, LondonGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michele K. Johnson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sally J. Holbrook
    • 1
    • 2
  • Russell J. Schmitt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Andrew J. Brooks
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Coastal Research Center, Marine Science InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

Personalised recommendations