Fish assemblages in seagrass beds are influenced by the proximity of mangrove forests

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Abstract

Mangrove forests and seagrass beds frequently occur as adjacent habitats in the temperate waters of southeastern Australia. At low tide when fish cannot occupy mangroves they might utilise adjacent habitats, including seagrass. We first sampled small fish from seagrass beds close to and far from mangroves in the Pittwater estuary, NSW, Australia. Seagrass beds close to mangroves had a greater density of fish species than beds far from mangroves (close: mean 16.0 species net-1, SE 1.0; far: 13.2, 1.3; P < 0.05). In particular, juvenile fish were in greater densities near to than far from mangroves (close: 5.3, 0.4; far: 3.1, 0.4; P < 0.05). We then sampled the mangrove forests during the high tide and seagrass beds during the low tide, in beds along a continuum of distances from mangroves. Multivariate analysis showed that fish assemblages differed with distance from mangroves, and the differences were attributed to the composition of the fish assemblage (i.e. presence/absence of fish species), not the abundances of individual species. In particular, fish that utilise mangrove forests at high tide were found in greater species densities and species richness in seagrass nearer to mangroves. A negative relationship was found between the density of mangrove-utilising fish species and the distance of the bed from mangroves (R2 = 0.37, P < 0.05). This confirms the important connectivity between mangroves and seagrass for fish in temperate Australian waters.

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