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  • Richardson et al. Sci Reports 2017

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Cross-scale habitat structure driven by coral species composition on tropical reefs

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Article number7557
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>8/08/2017
<mark>Journal</mark>Scientific Reports
Volume7
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The availability of habitat structure across spatial scales can determine ecological organization and
resilience. However, anthropogenic disturbances are altering the abundance and composition of
habitat-forming organisms. How such shifts in the composition of these organisms alter the physical structure of habitats across ecologically important scales remains unclear. At a time of unprecedented coral loss and homogenization of coral assemblages globally, we investigate the inherent structural complexity of taxonomically distinct reefs, across fve ecologically relevant scales of measurement (4–64cm). We show that structural complexity was infuenced by coral species composition, and was not a simple function of coral cover on the studied reefs. However, inter-habitat variation in structural complexity changed with scale. Importantly, the scales at which habitat structure was available also varied among habitats. Complexity at the smallest, most vulnerable scale (4cm) varied the most among habitats, which could have inferences for as much as half of all reef fshes which are small-bodied and refuge dependent for much of their lives. As disturbances continue and species shifts persist, the future of these ecosystems may rely on a greater concern for the composition of habitat-building species and prioritization of particular confgurations for protection of maximal cross-scale habitat structural complexity.