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Data from: Disentangling drivers of the abundance of coral reef fishes in the Western Indian Ocean

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Samoilys, Melita A.; Halford, Andrew; Osuka, Kennedy (2020). Data from: Disentangling drivers of the abundance of coral reef fishes in the Western Indian Ocean [Dataset]. Dryad.


Aim: Understanding the drivers of the structure of coral reef fish assemblages is vital for their future conservation. Quantifying the separate roles of natural drivers from the increasing influence of anthropogenic factors, such as fishing and climate change, is a key component of this understanding. It follows that the intrinsic role of historical biogeographical and geomorphological factors must be accounted for when trying to understand the effects of contemporary disturbances such as fishing. Location: Comoros, Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania, western Indian Ocean (WIO). Methods: We modelled patterns in the density and biomass of an assemblage of reef-associated fish species from 11 families, and their association with 16 bio-physical variables. Results: Canonical Analysis of Principal Coordinates revealed strong country affiliations of reef fish assemblages and distance-based linear modelling confirmed geographic location and reef geomorphology were the most significant correlates, explaining 32% of the observed variation in fish assemblage structure. Another 6-8% of variation was explained by productivity gradients (chl_a), and reef exposure or slope. Where spatial effects were not significant between mainland continental locations, fishing effects became evident explaining 6% of the variation in data. No correlation with live coral was detected. Only 37 species, predominantly lower trophic level taxa, were significant in explaining differences in assemblages between sites. Main Conclusions: Spatial and geomorphological histories remain a major influence on the structure of reef fish assemblages in the WIO. Reef geomorphology was closely linked to standing biomass, with ‘ocean-exposed’ fringing reefs supporting high average biomass of ~1,000 kg/ha, while ‘lagoon-exposed fringing’ reefs and ‘inner seas patch complex’ reefs yielded substantially less at ~500kg/ha. Further, the results indicate the influence of benthic communities on fish assemblages is scale dependent. Such insights will be pivotal for managers seeking to balance long-term sustainability of artisanal reef fisheries with conservation of coral reef systems.

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