University Of Tasmania

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The role of habitat complexity in shaping the size structure of a temperate reef fish community

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 11:51 authored by Rowan TrebilcoRowan Trebilco, Dulvy, NK, Stewart, H, Salomon, AK
Understanding how habitat complexity shapes fish communities is necessary to predict the consequences of future habitat change. On temperate rocky reefs, the presence and characteristics of canopy-forming kelps and the architectural complexity, or rugosity, of the underlying rocky substratum are foundational elements of habitat complexity. However, it is not yet clear how these factors shape the size structure of rocky-reef-associated fish communities. Here, we use biomass spectrum models to evaluate how fish community size structure in high-latitude rocky-reef kelp forests is shaped by substratum rugosity and the degree of closure and density of the kelp canopy. We found that the presence of a closed kelp canopy was associated with an average 75% increase in overall fish biomass compared to open-canopy reefs. Furthermore, on the highest rugosity reefs, the biomass of small fishes (32−64 g) was 800% higher than on the lowest-rugosity reefs, while large fish (1−2 kg) biomass was 60% lower. Consequently, biomass was more evenly distributed across body-size classes on high-rugosity reefs. By decomposing the biomass spectrum into total biomass and mean individual body mass, we found that higher kelp stipe densities also tended to be associated with larger fishes, but this effect was outweighed by the tendency for more small-bodied fishes with increasing rugosity. This study demonstrates how size-based analyses can give new insights into the ecology of temperate reef communities, and may be useful for tracking changes in kelp-associated assemblages in the coming decades with the maturation of marine protected areas, the recovery of sea otter populations, and the changing climate.


Publication title

Marine Ecology - Progress Series








Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies



Place of publication

Nordbunte 23, Oldendorf Luhe, Germany, D-21385

Rights statement

© Inter-Research 2015

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems