In heterogeneous landscapes, local patterns of community structure are a product of the habitat size and condition within a patch interacting with adjacent habitat patches of varying composition and quantity. While evidence for local versus landscape factors have been found in terrestrial biomes, support for such multi-scale effects shaping marine ecological communities is equivocal.
We investigated whether within-patch habitat condition can override seascape context to explain the community structure of macroalgae-associated reef fishes across a tropical seascape.
We mapped the distribution and abundance of a diverse family of reef fishes (Labridae) occupying macroalgae meadows within a tropical reef ecosystem, and using best-subsets model selection, investigated the potential for habitat structural connectivity and/or local habitat quality for predicting variations in fish community structure across the seascape.
Local habitat quality (canopy structure, hard habitat complexity) and area of coral-dominated habitat within 500 m of a macroalgal meadow provided the best predictors of fish community structure. However, the specific importance of a given predictor varied with fish life history stage and functional trophic group. Interestingly, macroalgae meadow area was among the least important predictors.
Given the complex interplay between local habitat quality and spatial context effects on fish biodiversity, our study reveals the multi-scale predictors that should be used in spatial conservation and management approaches for tropical fish diversity. Moreover, our findings question the ubiquity of habitat area effects in patchy landscapes, and cautions against a sole reliance on habitat quantity in spatial management.