Aim We examined data on corals and reef fishes to determine how particular local habitat types contribute to variation in community structure across regions covering gradients in species richness and how consistent this was over time.
Location Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia.
Methods We compared large-scale (1300 km), long-term (11 years) data on fishes and corals that were collected annually at fixed sites in three habitats (inshore, mid-shelf and outer-shelf reefs) and six regions (latitudinal sectors) along a gradient of regional species richness in both communities. We used canonical approaches to partition variation in community structure (sites × species abundance data matrices) into components associated with habitat, region and time and Procrustes analyses to assess the degree of concordance between coral and fish community structure.
Results Remarkably similar patterns emerged for both fish and coral communities occupying the same sites. Reefs that had similar coral communities also had similar fish communities. The fraction of the community data that could be explained by regional effects, independent of pure habitat effects, was similar in both fish (33%) and coral (36.9%) communities. Pure habitat effects were slightly greater in the fish (31.3%) than in the coral (20.1%) community. Time explained relatively little variation (fish = 7.9%, corals = 9.6%) compared with these two spatial factors.
Conclusions Our results indicate either that fish and coral communities were structured in similar ways by processes associated with region, habitat and time, or that the variation in fish community structure tracked variation associated with the coral communities at these sites and thereby reflects an indirect link between the environment and the structure of fish communities mediated by corals. Irrespective of the causes of such commonality, we demonstrate that community structure, not just species richness, can be related to both habitat differences and regional setting simultaneously.