Alternate Title

Connectivity Between Coastal Habitats of Two Oceanic Caribbean Islands as Inferred from Ontogenetic Shifts by Coral Reef Fishes

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Mangroves and seagrass beds are considered important nursery habitats for juveniles of coral reef fishes. Studies have mostly focused on the fish community of just one habitat, so the connectivity between different coastal habitats is often unclear. In this study, density and size of reef fish were determined using a single sampling technique in four non-estuarine bay habitats and four reef zones in Curaçao and Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles). The data indicate that of the complete reef fish community at least 21 species show ontogenetic crossshelf shifts in habitat utilization. The 21 species mainly utilized shallow-water habitats (mangroves, seagrass beds, channel and shallow reef) as nursery habitats and the deeper coral reef zones (> 5 m depth) as adult lifestage habitats. Fish species utilized 1–3 different nursery habitats simultaneously, but habitat utilization clearly differed between species. Previous studies showed that the dependence on these nursery habitats is very high, based on reduced density or absence of adults on coral reefs where these habitats were absent. The strong connectivity between several coastal habitats during the ontogeny of various commercially important reef fish species is evidence for the inclusion of bay habitats within boundaries of fishery reserves or marine protected areas.

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