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The importance of sponges and mangroves in supporting fish communities on degraded coral reefs in Caribbean Panama


Seemann, J and Yingst, A and Stuart-Smith, RD and Edgar, GJ and Altieri, AH, The importance of sponges and mangroves in supporting fish communities on degraded coral reefs in Caribbean Panama, PeerJ, 6 Article e4455. ISSN 2167-8359 (2018) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

© 2018 Seemann et al. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

DOI: doi:10.7717/peerj.4455


Fish communities associated with coral reefs worldwide are threatened by habitat degradation and overexploitation. We assessed coral reefs, mangrove fringes, and seagrass meadows on the Caribbean coast of Panama to explore the influences of their proximity to one another, habitat cover, and environmental characteristics in sustaining biomass, species richness and trophic structure of fish communities in a degraded tropical ecosystem. We found 94% of all fish across all habitat types were of small body size (≤10 cm), with communities dominated by fishes that usually live in habitats of low complexity, such as Pomacentridae (damselfishes) and Gobiidae (gobies). Total fish biomass was very low, with the trend of small fishes from low trophic levels over-represented, and top predators under-represented, relative to coral reefs elsewhere in the Caribbean. For example, herbivorous fishes comprised 27% of total fish biomass in Panama relative to 10% in the wider Caribbean, and the small parrotfish Scarus iseri comprised 72% of the parrotfish biomass. We found evidence that non-coral biogenic habitats support reef-associated fish communities. In particular, the abundance of sponges on a given reef and proximity of mangroves were found to be important positive correlates of reef fish species richness, biomass, abundance and trophic structure. Our study indicates that a diverse fish community can persist on degraded coral reefs, and that the availability and arrangement within the seascape of other habitat-forming organisms, including sponges and mangroves, is critical to the maintenance of functional processes in such ecosystems.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:reef life survey, citizen science, visual census, foundation species, habitat connectivity, nursery habitat, overfishing, sponges, reef degradation, trophic imbalance
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems
UTAS Author:Stuart-Smith, RD (Dr Rick Stuart-Smith)
UTAS Author:Edgar, GJ (Professor Graham Edgar)
ID Code:125160
Year Published:2018
Web of Science® Times Cited:15
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2018-04-04
Last Modified:2018-11-14
Downloads:4 View Download Statistics

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