Indexed on: 11 Apr '06Published on: 11 Apr '06Published in: Hydrobiologia
Few studies have considered how seagrass fish assemblages are influenced by surrounding habitats. This information is needed for a better understanding of the connectivity between tropical coastal ecosystems. To study the effects of surrounding habitats on the composition, diversity and densities of coral reef fish species on seagrass beds, underwater visual census surveys were carried out in two seagrass habitat types at various locations along the coast of Zanzibar (Tanzania) in the western Indian Ocean. Fish assemblages of seagrass beds in a marine embayment with large areas of mangroves (bay seagrasses) situated 9 km away from coral reefs were compared with those of seagrass beds situated on the continental shelf adjacent to coral reefs (reef seagrasses). No differences in total fish density, total species richness or total juvenile fish density and species richness were observed between the two seagrass habitat types. However, at species level, nine species showed significantly higher densities in bay seagrasses, while eight other species showed significantly higher densities in reef seagrasses. Another four species were exclusively observed in bay seagrasses. Since seagrass complexity could not be related to these differences, it is suggested that the arrangement of seagrass beds in the surrounding landscape (i.e. the arrangement on the continental shelf adjacent to the coral reef, or the arrangement in an embayment with mangroves situated away from reefs) has a possible effect on the occurrence of various reef-associated fish species on seagrass beds. Fish migration from or to the seagrass beds and recruitment and settlement patterns of larvae possibly explain these observations. Juvenile fish densities were similar in the two types of seagrass habitats indicating that seagrass beds adjacent to coral reefs also function as important juvenile habitats, even though they may be subject to higher levels of predation. On the contrary, the density and species richness of adult fish was significantly higher on reef seagrasses than on bay seagrasses, indicating that proximity to the coral reef increases density of adult fish on reef seagrasses, and/or that ontogenetic shifts to the reef may reduce adult density on bay seagrasses.