Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

Effects of microhabitat characteristics on the settlement and recruitment of a coral reef fish at two spatial scales


Populations of fishes on coral reefs are replenished by the settlement of pelagic larvae to demersal populations. Recruitment varies spatially and temporally and can exert strong effects on the dynamics of reef fish populations. This study examined the effect of microhabitat characteristics on small-scale and large-scale recruitment variation in the three-spot damselfish, Stegastes planifrons (Cuvier). Comparison of 0.25-m2 quadrats occupied by three-spots with randomly sampled null quadrats showed that three-spots quadrats contained a higher percent cover of the coral Montastrea annularis than would be expected at random. Manipulative experiments on three types of 1.0-m2 patch reefs (living M. annularis, dead Porites Porites and dead Acropora palmata) patch reefs on showed that this non-random distribution was established by microhabitat choice during settlement and not by differential post-settlement survival. The presence of conspecific juveniles did not affect settlement. Recruitment was monitored at nine sites on three islands over 3 years. Recruitment showed no consistent pattern in the relative levels of recruitment among sites. Similarly, no consistent relationship emerged between recruitment levels and microhabitat characteristics at the nine sites. For example, at this large scale, the percent cover of M. annularis explained variation in recruitment in only 1 out of 3 years. These results suggest that small-scale recruitment patterns are influenced by microhabitat choice during settlement, but that these habitat effects do not scale up to influence large-scale variation in recruitment.

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