Coral Reefs

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 1123–1132 | Cite as

Shelter use by large reef fishes: long-term occupancy and the impacts of disturbance

  • Joanna A. Khan
  • Christopher H. R. Goatley
  • Simon J. Brandl
  • Sterling B. Tebbett
  • David R. BellwoodEmail author


Large fishes often shelter beneath structures on coral reefs. While avoidance of UV radiation has been proposed as the main driver of this behaviour, sheltering behaviour has only been studied during the day and over short timeframes. Here we applied passive acoustic telemetry techniques to continuously monitor shelter usage patterns by large reef fishes over a period of 7 months. For three sweetlip species (Haemulidae), one snapper species (Lutjanidae) and one surgeonfish species (Acanthuridae), diurnal shelter use was remarkably consistent, with occupation of shelters throughout the day, and under all weather conditions, suggesting that factors other than UV avoidance may be important in driving shelter use. Large-scale observations revealed that all fish species appeared to undertake long-distance migrations (>1 km) away from their shelter sites each night. With the exception of the surgeonfish Acanthurus dussumieri, all fishes returned to the same areas to shelter for the entire study period. Individuals of A. dussumieri, however, failed to return on the night of a severe tropical cyclone. They never reappeared at the shelter sites. The disappearance of this species suggests that A. dussumieri probably forage at night in a different location to the carnivorous haemulids and lutjanids. Overall, this study highlights the long-term importance of shelter structures for fishes that may range over large areas of coral reefs.


Coral reef Diurnal Nocturnal Migration Foraging Cyclone 



We thank M. McFarland, R. Streit, M. McWilliam and staff of Lizard Island Research Station for field support; T. Fridrich and R. Nowicki for assistance with video processing; three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments; and the Australian Research Council for financial support (DRB) (Grant No. CE140100020).

Supplementary material

338_2017_1604_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1062 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.College of Science and EngineeringJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.School of Environmental and Rural ScienceUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  4. 4.Tennenbaum Marine Observatories NetworkSmithsonian InstitutionEdgewaterUSA

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