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The effect of coral morphology on shelter selection by coral reef fishes

Abstract

While the loss of structural complexity causes declines in coral reef fish diversity, the processes leading to this decline are largely unexplained. To explore the role of coral morphology in providing shelter for fishes, tabular, branching and massive corals were filmed with video cameras and their usage by large reef fishes compared. Tabular corals were utilised more than the other two morphologies, with at least triple the abundance, biomass and residence times of large fishes. The preference of coral reef fishes for specific structural traits of tabular corals was also examined using artificial structural units. This experimental component showed that large reef fishes preferred opaque rather than translucent canopies. It appears that large fishes cue to tabular corals because of the concealment and/or shade provided. It is suggested that a loss of tabular corals as a result of climate change would have significant ecological impacts for the coral reef fishes that use these structures for shelter.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to D. Buchler, N. Clark, S. Leahy and the staff of Lizard Island Research Station for field assistance; C. Goatley, A. Hoey, S. Uthicke and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. This work was funded by the Australian Research Council (D.R.B.).

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Correspondence to J. T. Kerry.

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Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Stephen Swearer

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Kerry, J.T., Bellwood, D.R. The effect of coral morphology on shelter selection by coral reef fishes. Coral Reefs 31, 415–424 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-011-0859-7

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Keywords

  • Reef fish
  • Structural complexity
  • Coral reef
  • Coral morphology
  • Shelter
  • Shade
  • Climate change