, Volume 137, Issue 1, pp 76–84 | Cite as

Depth distributions of coral reef fishes: the influence of microhabitat structure, settlement, and post-settlement processes

  • Maya SrinivasanEmail author
Population Ecology


Many coral reef fishes have restricted depth ranges that are established at settlement or soon after, but the factors limiting these distributions are largely unknown. This study examines whether the availability of microhabitats (reef substrata) explains depth limits, and evaluates whether juvenile growth and survival are lower beyond these limits. Depth-stratified surveys of reef fishes at Kimbe Bay (Papua New Guinea) showed that the abundance of new settlers and the cover of coral substrata differed significantly among depths. A field experiment investigated whether settling coral reef fishes preferred particular depths, and whether these depth preferences were dependent on microhabitat. Small patch reefs composed of identical coral substrata were set up at five depths (3, 6, 10, 15 and 20 m), and settlement patterns were compared to those on unmanipulated reef habitat at the same five depths. For all species, settlement on patch reefs differed significantly among depths despite uniform substratum composition. For four of the six species tested, depth-related settlement patterns on unmanipulated habitat and on patch reefs did not differ, while for the other two, depth ranges were greater on the patch reefs than on unmanipulated habitat. A second experiment examined whether depth preferences reflected variation in growth and survival when microhabitat was similar. Newly settled individuals of Chrysiptera parasema and Dascyllus melanurus were placed, separately, on patch reefs at five depths (as above) and their survival and growth monitored. D. melanurus, which is restricted to shallow depths, had highest survival and growth at the shallowest depth. Depth did not affect either survival or growth of C. parasema, which has a broader depth range than D. melanurus (between 6 and 15 m). This suggests that the fitness costs potentially incurred by settling outside a preferred depth range may depend on the strength of the depth preference.


Coral reef Depth Fitness Growth Habitat selection 



Many thanks to L. Gamfeldt, J. Harris, S. Kistle, G. P. Jones, J. McIlwain, W. D. Robbins, M. Schläppy and C. Syms for their assistance with field work, and to M. J. Caley, G. P. Jones, M. I. McCormick, P. L. Munday, C. W. Osenberg and two anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments on the manuscript. This research was supported by: Mahonia Na Dari Research and Conservation Centre, Kimbe; Max Benjamin and Walindi Plantation Resort, Kimbe; the School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, James Cook University; an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship; a James Cook University Postgraduate Scholarship; the James Cook University Doctoral Merit Research Scheme; and an Australian Research Council grant to G. P. Jones.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Marine Biology and AquacultureJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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