Even just restoring small patches of reef habitat can go a long way to repair coral ecosystems, new research has found.
“Patchy habitat arrangement is actually not a bad thing and it can actually promote diversity,” ABC science quoted lead author of the study, marine ecologist Dr Mary Bonin, of ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, as saying.
There is a widely-held view that habitat fragmentation leads to a loss of diversity and fish numbers.
But Bonin says because fragmentation and habitat loss tend to occur together, previous studies have failed to separate the relative contributions of each to the loss of diversity and number of species.
Over four months, Bonin and colleagues studied the impact of the habitat loss and fragmentation on the survival of stock fish and on the diversity and number of fish recruited to the reef from elsewhere in the bay.
The researchers found that, compared to the control reefs, virtually none of the fish survived on the “habitat loss” reefs, which also had the lowest diversity and number of new recruits.
The fragmented reefs (without habitat loss), by contrast had no effect on the survival of the fish. These reefs also had the highest diversity and number of new settlers.
“Habitat fragmentation is probably not the main problem for reef fishes following a disturbance,” said Bonin.
“What”s really affecting them negatively is loss of habitat rather than changes in the configuration of their habitat,” he added.
The study was recently published in the journal Ecology.