Habitat proximity exerts opposing effects on key ecological functions
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Connectivity is an important property of landscapes that shapes populations and ecosystem functioning. We do not know, however, whether and how different types of spatial linkages combine to influence ecological functions, and this hampers their integration into conservation planning.
We used coral reef seascapes in eastern Australia as a model system to test whether the proximity of other reefs (habitat proximity) or the proximity of other habitats (seascape proximity) exert stronger effects on two key ecological functions (herbivory and piscivory).
We measured rates of herbivory (on fleshy macroalgae) and piscivory (on prey fish) on reefs that differed in their proximity to both other reefs and nearby mangroves and seagrass.
The extent of habitat proximity between reefs significantly influenced both ecological functions, but in different ways: isolated reefs supported high herbivory but low piscivory, whilst, conversely, reefs that were closer to other reefs supported high piscivory but low herbivory. This was not caused by herbivores avoiding their predators, as the dominant piscivores (small predatory snappers) were too small to consume the dominant herbivores (large rabbitfishes). Seascape proximity (e.g., distance to mangroves or seagrass) was less important in shaping ecological functions on reefs in this system.
We suggest that the effects of seascape configuration on ecological functions depends on the type of spatial linkage, and the ecological functions in question. To better integrate connectivity into conservation, we must develop a deeper understanding of how different spatial linkages combine to shape ecosystem functioning across landscapes.
KeywordsSeascape Predation Herbivory Fish Coral reefs Asymmetry Connectivity
We thank A. Delaforce, A. Martin, K. Martin, C. Mapstone, R. Murphy and I. Pollard-Palmer for field assistance, and S. Engelhard, K. Gleeson and C. Henderson for helpful discussion of the manuscript. This study was funded by an Australian Postgraduate Award (TM). This research was carried out in accordance with Griffith University Ethics Guidelines under Ethics Approval ENV/02/16/AEC and conducted in accordance with Great Sandy Strait Marine Park Research Permit QS2016/GS065.
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