Community assembly of coral reef fishes along the Melanesian biodiversity gradient

Drew, Joshua Adam; Amatangelo, Kathryn L.

The Indo-Pacific is home to Earth’s most biodiverse coral reefs. Diversity on these reefs decreases from the Coral Triangle east through the islands of Melanesia. Despite this pattern having been identified during the early 20th century, our knowledge about the interaction between pattern and process remains incomplete. To evaluate the structure of coral reef fish communities across Melanesia, we obtained distributional records for 396 reef fish species in five taxa across seven countries. We used hierarchical clustering, nestedness, and multiple linear regression analyses to evaluate the community structure. We also compiled data on life history traits (pelagic larval duration, body size and schooling behavior) to help elucidate the ecological mechanisms behind community structure. Species richness for these taxa along the gradient was significantly related to longitude but not habitat area. Communities are significantly nested, indicating that species-poor communities are largely composed of subsets of the species found on species rich reefs. These trends are robust across taxonomic groups except for the Pomacentridae, which exhibit an anti-nested pattern, perhaps due to a large number of endemic species. Correlations between life history traits and the number of reefs on which species occurred indicate that dispersal and survival ability contribute to determining community structure. We conclude that distance from the Coral Triangle dominates community structure in reef fish; however, conservation of the most species-rich areas will not be sufficient alone to conserve the vivid splendor of this region.

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Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
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February 8, 2018