Seagrass meadows provide 3D habitat for reef fish

Abstract

For large fishes, seagrass canopies typically provide a relatively flat habitat on seabeds, but seagrasses in the genus Posidonia can provide additional habitat complexity by forming organic-rich deposits known as mats. Erosional processes can scour channels through the mats, resulting in the formation of escarpments with caves. Here we report that reef fishes, such as groupers, inhabit the caves found within mat escarpments. The characteristics of the cavities are highly variable, ranging from small-elongated holes to deep caves with large entrances. The origin of these caves (biological and/or geological) is unknown, but it is possible that fish behavior enhance their formation. Posidoniaseagrass escarpments provide a complex 3D habitat for reef fish that is not provided by typical canopy structure of seagrass. Further studies are required to gain insights into the natural history of seagrass escarpments and their ecological importance.