Abstract:

Multibeam sonar (MBS) hydro-acoustic technology allows for inexpensive, broad-scale, fine-resolution assessment of marine fish habitats. Parallel advancements in geographic information systems and new analytical techniques are providing researchers with the ability to generate informative surrogate predictors of biodiversity and species responses. The aim of this study was to determine whether fine-scale bathymetric derivatives of MBS survey data could be effectively applied as surrogates to explain spatial patterns in reef fish diversity and species-habitat relationships. In the absence of direct metrics of habitat, these derivatives might prove to be effective tools for marine spatial planning. Species-habitat relationships were examined across a marine reserve on the south-eastern coast of Tasmania at fine spatial scales using boosted regression tree analyses. The most important explanatory variables of community diversity were those describing the degree of reef aspect deviation from east and south (seemingly as a proxy for swell exposure), reef bathymetry (depth), plane and slope. Models could account for up to 30% of the spatial variability in measures of species diversity. Responses in species abundance and occurrence to habitat structure appeared to be largely species-specific at the scales investigated. Models accounted for up to 67% and 58% of the abundance and occurrence, respectively, for the southern hulafish Trachinops caudimaculatus. Our results demonstrate that multibeam-derived metrics of reef habitat structure, employed in combination with modern modelling approaches, have the potential to explain and predict fine-resolution patterns in temperate reef fish community structure. This knowledge is urgently required to effectively manage marine ecosystems and conserve biodiversity and fisheries resources.
 

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