Variation with Depth in Temperate Seagrass-Associated Fish Assemblages in Southern Victoria, Australia
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Variability in the abundance and distribution of seagrass-associated fish assemblages was examined at different depths in a temperate bay in southern Australia. Depth differences in seagrass-associated fish assemblages are poorly known but this information is critical given that seagrass loss can occur at specific depths depending on the cause. Overall, 69 species of fish from 26 families were recorded, with higher species richness in shallow than deep beds, with 12 species found only in deep beds and 22 species found only in shallow beds. While the total fish abundance (i.e. abundance of all species recorded) varied between years and seasons, and to some extent between sites, it was significantly higher in shallow than deep seagrass beds in the majority of cases. Although there was some variation between sites, seagrass tended to be longer and have a higher biomass in shallow than deep beds during both spring and autumn throughout the study. A positive relationship between seagrass biomass/length and total fish abundance/species richness was apparent. Assemblage structure tended to be distinct at each depth, with the largest species recorded in shallow seagrass. Large numbers of small schooling fish, such as atherinids, dominated in shallow seagrass but were not found in deep seagrass. Loss of seagrass could therefore have varying implications for distinct assemblages found at different depths.
KeywordsSeagrass habitats Zostera nigricaulis Port Phillip Bay Nursery
Financial support for this work was provided by Fisheries Victoria and the Port of Melbourne Corporation. This work would not have been possible without the field assistance of A. Beckhurst, D. Hatton, J. Kemp, J. Kent, M. Koopman, K. Mills, T. Sheehan, B. Womersley, G. Werner and C. White. We are also grateful to D. Bray who assisted with fish species identification. All work was done in accordance with state and national guidelines, with the relevant permits and animal ethics approval. We are grateful to several anonymous referees for their feedback which has greatly improved the paper.
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