New Publication: Shifting reef fish assemblages along a depth gradient in Pohnpei, Micronesia

Check out our new paper characterizing shallow and mesophotic reef asssemblages in Pohnpei, Micronesia [pdf]


Mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) continue to be understudied, especially in island locations spread across the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Pohnpei is the largest island in the Federated States of Micronesia, with a well-developed barrier reef, and steep slopes that descend to more than 1000 m. Here we conducted visual surveys along a depth gradient of 0 to 60 m in addition to video surveys that extend to 130 m, with 72 belt transects and 12 roving surveys using closed-circuit rebreathers, to test for changes in reef fish composition from shallow to mesophotic depths. We observed 304 fish species across 47 families with the majority confined to shallow habitat. Taxonomic and trophic positions at 30 m showed similar compositions when compared against all other depths. However, assemblages were comprised of a distinct shallow (<30 m) and deep (>30m) group, suggesting 30 m as a transition zone between these communities. Shallow specialists had a high probability of being herbivores and deep specialists had a higher probability of being planktivores. Acanthuridae (surgeonfishes), Holocentridae (soldierfishes), and Labridae (wrasses) were associated primarily with shallow habitat, while Pomacentridae (damselfishes) and Serranidae (groupers) were associated with deep habitat. Four species may indicate Central Pacific mesophotic habitat: Chromis circumaurea, Luzonichthys seaver, Odontanthias borbonius, and an undescribed slopefish (Symphysanodon sp.). This study supports the 30-m depth profile as a transition zone between shallow and mesophotic ecosystems (consistent with accepted definitions of MCEs), with evidence of multiple transition zones below 30 m. Disturbances restricted to either region are not likely to immediately impact the other and both ecosystems should be considered separately in management of reefs near human population centers.