Interactive effects of live coral and structural complexity on the recruitment of reef fishes

D. J. Coker, N. A.J. Graham, M. S. Pratchett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Corals reefs are subjected to multiple disturbances that modify levels of coral cover and structural complexity of the reef matrix, and in turn influence the structure of associated fish communities. With disturbances predicted to increase, insight into how changes in substrate condition will influence the recruitment of many fishes is essential for understanding the recovery of reef fish populations following biological and physical disturbances. While studies have revealed that both live coral cover and structural complexity are important for many fishes, there is a lack of understanding regarding how a combination of these changes will impact the recruitment of fishes. This study used experimentally constructed patch reefs consisting of six different habitat treatments; three levels of live coral cover (high, medium, low) crossed with two levels of structural complexity (high, low), to test the independent and combined effects of live coral cover and structural complexity on the recruitment and recovery of fish communities. The abundance and species diversity of fishes varied significantly among the six habitat treatments, but differences were not clearly associated with either coral cover or structural complexity and varied through time. More striking, however, was a significant difference in the composition of fish assemblages among treatments, due mostly to disproportionate abundance of coral-dwelling fishes on high coral cover, high complexity reefs. Overall, it appears that coral cover had a more important influence than structural complexity, at least for the contrasting levels of structural complexity achieved on experimental patch reefs. Furthermore, we found that live coral cover is important for the recruitment of some non-coral-dependent fishes. This study confirms that live coral cover is critical for the maintenance of high biodiversity on tropical coral reefs, and that sustained and ongoing declines in coral cover will adversely affect recruitment for many different species of reef fishes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)919-927
Number of pages9
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We are grateful to R. Lawton and M. Trapon for their assistance in the field and the staff at Lizard Island Research Station for logistic support. Funding was provided by AIMS@JCU and Lizard Island Ian Potter Doctorial Fellowship to D.J.C and an ARC Australian Postdoctoral Fellowship to N.A.J.G.


  • Coral reef ecology
  • Coral reef fish
  • Disturbances
  • Recruitment
  • Resilience
  • Settlement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Interactive effects of live coral and structural complexity on the recruitment of reef fishes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this