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The ecology of patch reef fishes in a subtropical Pacific atoll: recruitment variability, community structure and effects of fishing predators

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Title:The ecology of patch reef fishes in a subtropical Pacific atoll: recruitment variability, community structure and effects of fishing predators
Authors:Schroeder, Robert E.
LC Subject Headings:Fishes--South Pacific Ocean--Ecology.
Coral reef ecology--South Pacific Ocean.
Date Issued:May 1989
Publisher:University of Hawaii at Manoa
Citation:Schroeder, Robert E. The ecology of patch reef fishes in a subtropical Pacific atoll: recruitment variability, community structure and effects of fishing predators. Honolulu (HI): University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1989.
Abstract:The ecology of patch reef fishes was studied to quantify the main
factors that affect the natural variability of the fish community and
to determine the effects produced on the community by experimental
removal of predators. Initially, a year-long baseline description was
completed of the physical, biological and ecological characteristics of
8 pristine patch reefs at Midway lagoon. For over 3 subsequent years,
piscivorous predators were spearfished at least monthly, often for days
at a time, on 4 of the 8 reefs. Fish populations were visually
censused throughout the experiment. In all seasons and years of the
project, daily recruitment rate of postlarval fishes to natural patch
reefs was compared to that measured on standardized, artificial reefs
of various sizes and degrees of inter-reef isolation. Finally, all
baseline measurements were replicated and complete collections were
made of all fishes, to validate the visual census method.
Visual censusing was found to be of adequate precision and accuracy
for most resident, non-cryptic species (highest for small patch reefs).
Fishes could be assigned to size classes underwater by visual estimate
with high accuracy. Rotenone collections were highly effective in
quantifying many species commonly missed or underestimated in visual
Only a few species composed the bulk of all recruits, while most
species were rare or not seen at all. Variation between species was
related to life history strategies or behavioral requirements. High temporal variability was found at the following scales: 1) Annuallywhere
variability increased with the magnitude of recruitment, and
different species recruited heavily in different years, suggesting that
species specific factors in the plankton are more important than
general oceanographic conditions; 2) Seasonally- pulsing strongly in
summer, and occasionally late fall, when favorable environmental
conditions may maximize growth and survival; and 3) Daily- with 1 or 2
strong peaks (each only a few days long) over a period of several weeks
of low, variable recruitment.
Small-scale spatial variability between replicate attractors
(standardized artificial reefs) and between attractor types (coral and
wire) were both high for a few species recruiting abundantly, although
most recruits are probably substrate generalists. Rigorous visual fish
censuses can adequately document moderate- to long-term temporal
variation in the abundances of recently recruited juveniles on patch
reefs (i.e., based on similar temporal patterns assessed by daily
attractors). Daily total recruitment rate increased, although at
diminishing densities, with (attractor) reef size, and with degree of
inter-reef isolation. Abundances of recently recruited fish censused
on neighboring, natural patch reefs (much larger than attractors)
increased with reef size. The effect of isolation on these natural
reefs was confounded by the stronger effect of reef size. These
results suggest that if optimum size and spacing of reefs is provided,
either by proper design of artificial reefs or selection of marine reserves, managers may enhance fish recruitment and ultimately improve
local fisheries:
Of the 135 fishes censused on the patch reefs studied, only 6
species together accounted for 70% of the total number of all fish,
mainly due to heavy seasonal recruitment pulses. Strong seasonal and
annual variability in recruitment was responsible for most of the
temporal variation in fish abundance. The structure of patch reef fish
communities at Midway was characterized by high unpredictability (e.g.,
great seasonal and/or annual variability in recruitment by common
species, recruitment limitation for most species, and a high turnover
rate detected by frequent sampling). Some predictions of the theory of
island biogeography were also met by these fish communities (e.g.,
species richness correlated strongly with patch reef area, volume and
relief). and total fish abundance. Some populations also exhibited a
degree of long-term stability. Species diversity [H'] was similar
among different size reefs.
The experimental fishing on piscivores produced a catch composed
mainly of lizardfish, due largely to immigration following the removal
of other, competitively superior, highly resident piscivores.
Scorpionfish and moray eels were also dominant predators. The expected
decreases in catch-per-unit-effort were not realized, except for a
quantitatively insignificant family (hawkfish). Conversely, the catch
of the highly migratory lizardfish actually increased as fishing
progressed. Changes in the catch composition for other piscivores related mainly to major changes in reef size or to patterns of large,
inter-year recruitment fluctuations. Census data confirmed the major
trends indicted by catch results. Sharks and jacks were attracted to
the experimental reefs by spearfishing; the study was unable to
determine whether their piscivorous effect was different between reef
Patch reef fish communities at Midway were relatively resilient to
long-term, intense fishing pressure on piscivores. However, enhanced
survival of a large, annual, summer recruitment pulse of a common
cardinalfish, synchronized with a temporary but significant reduction
of lizardfish (the most prevalent piscivore) by fishing, suggested that
an effect of predation on reef fish populations is experimentally
detectable and considerable. However, temporal and spatial variability
in recruitment, and reef size differences and changes in size were the
primary factors responsible for the observed temporal patterns in fish
abundance. COlnmunity analysis involves numerous confounding effects
and requires the most careful interpretation for valid conclusions.
Description:xvi, 321 leaves, bound : ill. ; 29 cm.
Pages/Duration:336 pages
Rights:All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Zoology

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