Macroalgal meadow habitats support fish and fisheries in diverse tropical seascapes

Canopy-forming macroalgae can construct extensive meadow habitats in tropical seascapes occupied by fishes that span a diversity of taxa, life-history stages and ecological roles. Our synthesis assessed whether these tropical macroalgal habitats have unique fish assemblages, provide fish nurseries and support local fisheries. We also applied a meta-analysis of independent surveys across 23 tropical reef locations in 11 countries to examine how macroalgal canopy condition is related to the abundance of macroalgal-associated fishes. Over 627 fish species were documented in tropical macroalgal meadows, with 218 of these taxa exhibiting higher local abundance within this habitat (cf. nearby coral reef) during at least one life-history stage. Major overlap (40%–43%) in local fish species richness among macroalgal and seagrass or coral reef habitats suggest macroalgal meadows may provide an important habitat refuge. Moreover, the prominence of juvenile fishes suggests macroalgal meadows facilitate the triphasic life cycle of many fishes occupying diverse tropical seascapes. Correlations between macroalgal canopy structure and juvenile abundance suggests macroalgal habitat condition can influence levels of replenishment in tropical fish populations, including the majority of macroalgal-associated fishes that are targeted by commercial, subsistence or recreational fisheries. While many macroalgal-associated fishery species are of minor commercial value, their local importance for food and livelihood security can be substantial (e.g. up to 60% of landings in Kenyan reef fisheries). Given that macroalgal canopy condition can vary substantially with sea temperature, there is a high likelihood that climate change will impact macroalgal-associated fish and fisheries.

Fulton, C. J., Berkström, C., Wilson, S. K., Abesamis, R. A., Bradley, M., Åkerlund, C., … Tinkler, P. (2020). Macroalgal meadow habitats support fish and fisheries in diverse tropical seascapes. Fish and Fisheries. doi:10.1111/faf.12455

We thank participants to our special session on tropical macroalgal fishes at the 2017 Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference and 10th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference for helpful discussions in the early phase of this project. Support was provided by The Australian National University (National Institutes Grant—Research School of Biology), WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation & Attractions, Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Environment Conservation Fund of the Government of Hong Kong SAR (ECF15/2015 to PTYL and PKSL), the Philippine Department of Science and Technology Grants-in-Aid Program (to RAA and AAB), the Australian Research Council (DE130100688 to ASH), the Royal Society (UF140691 fellowship to NAJG), and the Swedish Research Council (2015-01257, E0344801). We thank Sofia Wikström and three anonymous peer reviewers for constructive comments on earlier drafts


Fish and Fisheries


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