Off-reef planktivorous reef fishes respond positively to decadal-scale no-take marine reserve protection and negatively to benthic habitat change
Russ, GR and Aller-Rojas, OD and Rizzari, JR and Alcala, AC, Off-reef planktivorous reef fishes respond positively to decadal-scale no-take marine reserve protection and negatively to benthic habitat change, Marine Ecology, 38, (3) Article e12442. ISSN 0173-9565 (2017) [Refereed Article]
The effects of no-take marine reserve (NTMR) protection and changes in benthic habitat on fusiliers (family Caesionidae) were investigated at four small Philippine offshore islands on time scales of 10–31 years. Fusiliers are highly mobile, schooling, medium-sized planktivorous fish that generally feed "off-reef." For these reasons, and given the small size of the NTMRs (3.6–37.5 ha) in this study, it was predicted that fusilier density would be unlikely to show clear effects of NTMR protection, or to respond to changes in benthic habitat. In contrast to predictions, clear NTMR effects were observed on fusilier density at three of the four NTMRs, with durations of protection from 14 to 31 years. Furthermore, the study provided strong evidence that benthic variables, specifically cover of live hard coral and dead substratum, affect the density of fusiliers. This effect of benthic habitat on density was highlighted by several major environmental disturbances that caused shifts in the benthic habitat from live hard coral to dead substratum. For two of the three most abundant species of fusiliers individually, and for all three of them combined (Pterocaesio pisang + Caesio caerulaurea + Pterocaesio digramma/tessellata), as live hard coral cover decreased, fish density decreased. It is hypothesized that these "off-reef" daytime feeders may have such a strong association with live hard coral cover because they use this habitat as nocturnal sleeping sites. Multivariate analyses indicated that, across all sites and times sampled, cover of live hard coral and dead substratum accounted for 38% of the variation in fish assemblage structure. These results are important as there are very few reports in the published literature of strong effects of NTMR protection or changes in benthic habitat on the density and assemblage structure of fusiliers.