Variation in Fish Abundance, Diversity and Assemblage Structure in Seagrass Meadows across the Atlanto-Mediterranean Province

Máñez-Crespo, Julia; Tomàs, Fiona; Fernández-Torquemada, Yolanda; Royo, Laura; Espino, Fernando; Antich, Laura; Bosch, Nestor E.; Castejón-Silvo, Inés; Hernán, Gema; Marco-Méndez, Candela; Mateo-Ramírez, Ángel; Pereda-Briones, Laura; Pilar-Ruso, Yoana del; Terrados, Jorge; Tuya, Fernando. Diversity 14 : 808 (2022)  DIGITAL CSIC 

Seagrasses worldwide provide key habitats for fish assemblages. Biogeographical disparities in ocean climate conditions and seasonal regimes are well-known drivers of the spatial and temporal variation in seagrass structure, with potential effects on associated fish assemblages. Whether taxonomically disparate fish assemblages support a similar range of ecological functions remains poorly tested in seagrass ecosystems. In this study, we examined variation in the abundance, diversity (from a taxonomic and functional perspective), and assemblage structure of fish community inhabiting nine meadows of the seagrass Cymodocea nodosa across three regions in the Mediterranean (Mallorca and Alicante) and the adjacent Atlantic (Gran Canaria), and identified which attributes typifying the structure of meadows, and large-scale variability in ocean climate, contributed most to explaining such ecological variation. Despite a similar total number of species between Mallorca and Gran Canaria, the latter region had more taxonomically and functionally diverse fish assemblages relative to the western Mediterranean regions, which translated into differences in multivariate assemblage structure. While variation in the abundance of the most conspicuous fish species was largely explained by variation in seagrass structural descriptors, most variation in diversity was accounted for by a descriptor of ocean climate (mean seasonal SST), operating at regional scales. Variation in fish assemblage structure was, to a lesser extent, also explained by local variability in seagrass structure. Beyond climatic drivers, our results suggest that lower temporal variability in the canopy structure of C. nodosa meadows in Gran Canaria provides a more consistent source of food and protection for associated fish assemblages, which likely enhances the more abundant and diverse fish assemblages there.