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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Apr 22;272(1565):827-32.

Wave energy and swimming performance shape coral reef fish assemblages.

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Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity, Department of Marine Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.


Physical factors often have an overriding influence on the distribution patterns of organisms, and can ultimately shape the long-term structure of communities. Although distribution patterns in sessile marine organisms have frequently been attributed to functional characteristics interacting with wave-induced water motion, similar evidence for mobile organisms is lacking. Links between fin morphology and swimming performance were examined in three diverse coral reef fish families from two major evolutionary lineages. Among-habitat variation in morphology and performance was directly compared with quantitative values of wave-induced water motion from seven coral reef habitats of different depth and wave exposure on the Great Barrier Reef. Fin morphology was strongly correlated with both field and experimental swimming speeds in all three families. The range of observed swimming speeds coincided closely with the magnitude of water velocities commonly found on coral reefs. Distribution patterns in all three families displayed highly congruent relationships between fin morphology and wave-induced water motion. Our findings indicate a general functional relationship between fin morphology and swimming performance in labriform-swimming fishes, and provide quantitative evidence that wave energy may directly influence the assemblage structure of coral reef fishes through interactions with morphology and swimming performance.

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