High seagrass diversity and canopy-height increase associated fish diversity and abundance

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Seagrass species function as typical foundation species that unifies most ecosystem processes. This ecosystem role depends largely on the morphological characteristics and structural complexity of seagrass beds, including their ecological importance for fish species. This study examined relationships between seagrass bed characteristics and associated fish communities in mixed seagrass beds. Correspondence analysis (CA) and canonical correlation analysis (CCoA) were performed to estimate relationships for individual seagrass bed characteristics. The CCoA results revealed that species richness and three-dimensional structure of seagrass had great effect on the biomass and richness of the associated fish community. The CA results revealed that the relative importance of seagrass bed characteristics differed among fish functional groups including fishes appearing on the surface of, inside, and on the bottom of seagrass beds. The fishes found on the surface of the beds preferred beds with low seagrass biomass and high three-dimensional structure, those inside the beds preferred beds with high seagrass biomass and high three-dimensional structure, and those on the bottom of the beds preferred locations with low seagrass biomass and low three-dimensional structure. The results of this study provide compelling evidence that seagrass beds with high species diversity and high three-dimensional structure, but intermediate biomass, may provide the great benefit to the associated fish community. Such niche complementarity among fishes may be a process facilitated by seagrass diversity for secondary production as an ecosystem functioning.

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