The importance of oceanic atoll lagoons for coral reef predators

Published on
09. January 2020

The importance of oceanic atoll lagoons for coral reef predators

Christina Skinner, Aileen C. Mill, Steven P. Newman, S. Nadia Alsagoff, Nicholas V. C. Polunin


Predators on coral reefs play an important ecological role structuring reef fish communities and are important fishery targets. It is thought that reef predator assemblages increase in density and diversity from inner lagoonal to outer edge reefs. Oceanic atolls may differ though, as nutrients are available throughout. Reef predator populations are declining, but there is little known about how their distributions may vary across oceanic atolls. Using a combination of underwater visual census and baited remote underwater video, this study aimed to compare reef predator populations between inner and outer reefs of North Malé Atoll (Maldives) and determine which reef metrics may drive any differences in assemblage structure. We found that predator assemblages were significantly different between inner and outer atoll. Body sizes of several predator families were consistently larger in the outer atoll, however, abundance, biomass and species richness were similar between outer edge reefs and inner lagoonal reefs suggesting atoll lagoons may be undervalued habitats. Depth and complexity were consistently important predictors of the predator assemblage. Inner atoll lagoonal habitat is equally as important for reef predator assemblages as outer reef slopes, although the dominant species differ. This study provides important information on reef predator populations in the Maldives, where detailed assessments of the reef predator assemblage are lacking but the reef fishery is thriving and annual catch will continue to increase.

Mar Biol (2020) 167: 19. DOI: 10.1007/s00227-019-3634-x


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