The role of microhabitat preference and social organization in determining the spatial distribution of a coral reef fish
Environmental Biology of Fishes
Both habitat preferences and social organization can influence the spatial distributions of individuals. We explored effects of individual behavior and social organization on distributions of arc-eye hawkfish (Paracirrhites arcatus) in lagoons of French Polynesia. Analysis of habitat selectivity data obtained during surveys revealed that the most highly preferred microhabitat of arc-eye hawkfish was large Pocillopora coral with an open branching morphology. However, such corals were rare and most hawkfish occupied smaller, less preferred Pocillopora. Indeed, total abundance of Pocillopora explained nearly two thirds of the lagoon-wide variation in abundance of hawkfish and the derived relationship between the numbers of hawkfish and Pocillopora predicted 86% of the spatial variation in hawkfish abundance during subsequent surveys. In contrast, large, open-branched Pocillopora explained little of the spatial variation in abundance of hawkfish. Individual behavior and social organization significantly impacted use of the most highly preferred Pocillopora. During a colonization experiment set up outside hawkfish home ranges, all colonizers resided on the most highly preferred corals. Following addition of the most highly preferred Pocillopora corals to areas occupied by hawkfish, only the largest, socially dominant individuals obtained access to added corals, spending significantly more time and increasing both aggressive acts and prey attacks from these substrates. These results illustrate the importance of understanding the modulating effects of social behavior on habitat use and explain why most hawkfish individuals do not occupy their most preferred microhabitat type.