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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 58(12)

Habitat complexity and predation risk determine juvenile snapper (Pagrus auratus) and goatfish (Upeneichthys lineatus) behaviour and distribution

P. M. Ross A D E, S. F. Thrush B, J. C. Montgomery A, J. W. Walker C, D. M. Parsons C

A Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland, PO Box 349, Warkworth, New Zealand.
B National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, PO Box 11-115 Hamilton, New Zealand.
C National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Private Bag 109695, Auckland, New Zealand.
D Present address: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand.
E Corresponding author. Email: pmr16@waikato.ac.nz
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Early research into the distribution of juvenile snapper (Pagrus auratus) indicated that complex habitats were not important during early life stages. Recent studies in soft-sediment environments, however, have shown juvenile snapper to be more abundant in areas of complex habitat. No previous studies have investigated how and why this species uses both reef and soft-sediment habitats. Therefore, we examined the role of topographic complexity in influencing juvenile snapper distribution and habitat use, providing both field and laboratory evidence for the importance of complex benthic habitats for juvenile snapper and goatfish (Upeneichthys lineatus). Underwater visual censuses showed both species to be most abundant over sand flats adjacent to rocky reef habitats, a distribution that may balance the requirements of food acquisition and predator avoidance. In aquaria experiments, where juvenile snapper were given a choice between habitat with and without shelter, the use of shelter habitat increased significantly in the presence of a predatory threat. This demonstration of the use of complex habitat as shelter highlights the importance of benthic complexity for juvenile snapper and suggests that the management of essential habitats could enhance juvenile survivorship and should have an important role to play in sustainable management of exploited species.

Keywords: essential fish habitat, north-eastern New Zealand, rocky reefs, spatial scales.

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