Assessing 50-Year Change in Bahamian Reef Fish Assemblages: Evidence for Community Response to Recent Disturbance?
The Caribbean has experienced long-term declines in coral reef habitat. Research on the effect of habitat degradation has emphasized the importance of time since disturbance on reef fish response. We examined whether reef fish community structure was retained over a 50-yr period off the coast of New Providence Island, The Bahamas, in areas with increased dead coral and algal cover. Using baseline data from 1955 to 1973, we resurveyed four localities in 2006 using comparable methodology to assess historical and current reef fish community structure. We did not find evidence for changes in diversity through time; however, our results were suggestive of several patterns that should be further explored. Analysis of similarity (ANOSIM) showed that both shallow and deep sites have experienced change through time. A general pattern of relative increase was seen in the herbivore trophic group, as well as the squirrelfishes, parrotfishes, and, qualitatively, the wrasses, which may be explained by an increase in algal cover and/or a decrease in predation pressure. Planktivores, primarily cardinalfishes, showed a trend towards decreased relative abundance. Overall, the results were consistent with a hypothesis that reef fish assemblages around New Providence Island are responding to the effects of relatively recent (< 10 yrs) coral loss. Distinct differences were also found between depths above and below 6 m, irrespective of time or site. These areas should be continually monitored to track long-term effects, particularly given the proliferation of the invasive lionfish, Pterois volitans (linnaeus, 1758), subsequent to the time frame examined in this study.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: July 1, 2011
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