Changing Patterns of Microhabitat Utilization by the Threespot Damselfish, Stegastes planifrons, on Caribbean Reefs
Precht, William F.
Aronson, Richard B.
Moody, Ryan M.
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CitationPrecht, William F., Richard B. Aronson, Ryan M. Moody, Les Kaufman. "Changing Patterns of Microhabitat Utilization by the Threespot Damselfish, Stegastes planifrons, on Caribbean Reefs" PLoS ONE 5(5): e10835. (2010)
BACKGROUND. The threespot damselfish, Stegastes planifrons (Cuvier), is important in mediating interactions among corals, algae, and herbivores on Caribbean coral reefs. The preferred microhabitat of S. planifrons is thickets of the branching staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis. Within the past few decades, mass mortality of A. cervicornis from white-band disease and other factors has rendered this coral a minor ecological component throughout most of its range. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS. Survey data from Jamaica (heavily fished), Florida and the Bahamas (moderately fished), the Cayman Islands (lightly to moderately fished), and Belize (lightly fished) indicate that distributional patterns of S. planifrons are positively correlated with live coral cover and topographic complexity. Our results suggest that species-specific microhabitat preferences and the availability of topographically complex microhabitats are more important than the abundance of predatory fish as proximal controls on S. planifrons distribution and abundance. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE. The loss of the primary microhabitat of S. planifrons-A. cervicornis-has forced a shift in the distribution and recruitment of these damselfish onto remaining high-structured corals, especially the Montastraea annularis species complex, affecting coral mortality and algal dynamics throughout the Caribbean.