Estuaries and Coasts
School of Science / Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research
CAUL and its Member Institutions
Sunshine Coast Council
Habitat complexity and connectivity can influence the number of species and their diversity across a landscape. For the surf zones of ocean-exposed beaches, globally one of the longest habitat interfaces, the assumed low structural complexity, and apparent homogeneity, of the sandy seafloor habitats predicts low taxonomic and functional diversity. Here, we assessed how the configuration of the seascape and the context of different beach structure functional diversity and functional niche space of fish assemblages in surf zones. We expected that beaches that were well connected with highly productive and complex estuarine and reef habitats would support a greater level of functional diversity, and a greater degree of functional complementarity within different niches. We sampled surf zones at twenty-five beaches along 50 km of coastline in southeast Queensland, Australia. We calculated functional diversity and functional niche space using variation in the functional traits of fish assemblages. We found that increased proximity with nearby subtidal rocky reefs was the key feature of the coastline shaping functional diversity and functional niche space in surf zone fishes. These effects resulted in increased functional complementarity within a number of fish functional group niches when rocky reefs were nearby. We provide empirical evidence that habitat proximity can structure functional diversity and complementarity in the surf zones of ocean beaches, a system traditionally viewed as having low habitat heterogeneity. Our results highlight the focus management must take in conserving these highly connected ecosystems to avoid negative functional consequences.
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