Seascape connectivity and configuration of multiple habitats are important features to include in marine spatial planning, and protecting seascapes with high connectivity is recommended.
The present study examines the potential connectivity of reef fish assemblages in a shallow-water conservation area in Zanzibar (Tanzania) by analysing relationships between a set of habitat variables and fish diversity and density for different functional groups (based on diet) and life stages of fish using PLS-analysis.
We combined spatial pattern metrics (habitat type, patch size, distance to patch) and dispersal abilities of a number of fish species using buffer radius to answer the questions; (i) do coral reefs with high connectivity to seagrass habitats have higher abundances and higher species richness of fish that undertake routine migrations during their life-history? and (ii) do coral reefs closer to mangrove forest support higher abundances of nursery species (i.e., fish species that use mangrove and seagrass beds as juvenile habitat)? Habitat mosaics surrounding fish survey sites and within-patch measurements inside fish survey sites were quantified at multiple scales (meters to kilometers) using aerial photography and scuba.
Fish data was collected using a standardized point census method. We found that both fine- and broad-scale variables were important in structuring fish communities and connectivity with surrounding habitats, where predominantly seagrass beds within a 750 m radius had a positive influence on fish abundances of invertebrate feeders/piscivores (especially for lutjanids and lethrinids).
Additionally, fine-scale seagrass cover had a positive influence on nursery species. Depth also had a positive influence on total species richness and the abundance of invertebrate feeders/piscivores. This study highlights the importance of combining connectivity and habitat configuration at different scales to fully understand and manage the tropical seascape.
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