Local Environmental Context Structures Animal-Habitat Associations Across Biogeographic Regions

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Ecosystems; Springer


The mechanisms that govern fauna-habitat associations across multiple spatial scales remain largely undefined. Can environmental factors structure fauna-habitat associations over both local and global spatial scales, alongside biogeographical processes and patterns? We compare the extent to which the use of mangroves by fishes is consistent within and between biogeographic locations, and whether any similarities and differences can be attributed to the environmental context of those forests, such as the physical environment, seascape composition and constraints on access by fishes. We focus on three important proxies of these structuring forces for fish—salinity, distance to reefs and tidal amplitude. Using directly comparable remote underwater visual census from a range of diverse environmental contexts in the Central and Eastern Indo-Pacific, we examine similarity in the family-level taxonomic composition of fish assemblages in mangrove forests. Local environmental context appears to explain similarities and differences in mangrove association by fishes at both regional and local scales across the Indo-Pacific. There were strong consistencies in taxonomic composition in similar environmental contexts despite geographic separation. Tidal amplitude was a powerful explanatory factor that interacted with both distance to reef and salinity in partitioning variation in fish assemblage structure. Substantial differences in the use of mangroves between regions appear to be independent of historical biogeography, relating instead to local context. Our findings suggest that the effects of local context on habitat suitability can play out over biogeographical scales, and global similarities in fauna-habitat associations may be partially explained by comparable environmental contexts, with important management implications.

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Marine and Environmental Sciences