Jackson Estuarine Laboratory


Habitat structure, conspecific presence and spatial variaiton in the recruitment of a temperate reef fish


Pronounced spatial variation in recruitment occurs in many marine invertebrate and fish populations and is thought to be critical to the demography of these species. In this study I examined the importance of habitat structure and the presence of conspecific residents to spatial variation in larval settlement and recruitment in a temperate fish Tautogolabrus adspersus. I define settlement as the movement of individuals from the water column to the benthic habitat, while I refer to recruitment as numbers of individuals surviving some arbitrary period of time after settlement. Experiments in which standard habitats were stocked with conspecifics showed that resident conspecifics were not an important factor contributing to small-scale variability in recruitment. Further correlative analyses demonstrated that large-scale variation in recruitment could not be explained by variability in older age classes. By contrast, manipulations of macroalgal structure within a kelp bed demonstrated that recruitment was significantly higher in habitats with a dense understory of foliose and filamentous algae than in habitats with only crustose algae. Understory algae varied in their pattern of disperison among sites, and the dispersion of fish matched that of the plants. In order to determine the effects of differences in patterns of algal dispersion on the demography of associated T. adspersus populations, I used experimental habitat units to manipulate patterns of dispersion. Settlement was significantly greater to randomly placed versus clumped habitats; however, no differences in recruitment between random and clumped habitats were detected. Because recruitment is a function of the numbers of settlers minus the subsequent loss of settlers, rates of mortality or migration must have been higher in the randomly placed habitats. These results are counter to the current paradigm for reef fishes which suggests that larval settlement is the crucial demographic process producing variability in population abundance. In this experiment patterns of settlement were modified by varying the patch structure of the habitat.

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