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Coral reef fish assemblages are widely recognized for the coexistence of numerous species, which are likely governed by both coral diversity and substratum complexity. However, since coral reefs provide diverse habitats due to their physical structure and different spatial arrangements of coral, findings obtained from an isolated habitat cannot necessarily be applied to fish assemblages in other habitats (e.g. continuous habitats). The aim of this study, therefore, was to determine by a field experiment whether habitat connectivity (spatial arrangement of coral colonies) affects abundance and species richness of fishes in an Okinawan coral reef. The experiment consisted of transplanted branching coral colonies at a 4 m×8 m quadrat at both a rocky reef flat and sandy sea bottom. Generally, the abundance of fishes was greater at the sandy sea bottom, especially for three species of pomacentrids, one species of labrids, one species of chaetodontids and two species of apogonids. Species–area curves showed that the species richness of fishes was significantly greater in the quadrat at the sandy sea bottom at 3, 6 and 9 months after the start of the experiment. The rate of increase in abundance of fishes per area was significantly greater in the quadrat at the sandy sea bottom over the study period. The results of rarefaction analyses showed that the rate of increase in species richness per abundance was significantly higher in the quadrat at the sandy sea bottom in the juvenile settlement period, indicating that the magnitude of dominance by particular species was greater at the sandy sea bottom habitat. Our findings suggest that habitat connectivity affects the abundance and species richness of coral reef fishes, i.e. the isolated habitat was significantly more attractive for fishes than was the continuous habitat. Our findings also suggest that the main ecological factors responsible for organization of fish assemblage at a continuous habitat and at an isolated habitat are different.