Fish density, species richness and diversity between stands of natural and artificial Acropora cervicornis
Coral reefs around the world are experiencing high levels of degradation due to temperature changes, increased nutrients and destructive fishing techniques. For example, where there were once large thickets of the branching coral Acropora cervicornis along the coasts of Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean, there is now sand and dead coral. Loss of an entire highly complex habitat has likely altered the local reef fish community. Artificial reefs have been used in the past to test hypotheses about structural complexity and its effects on reef fish communities. However, no studies have sought to discover if artificial reef structures modeled after A. cervicornis would support reef fishes found in the natural branching coral colonies by mimicking the structural complexity provided by the coral. To answer this question, four patches of artificial A. cervicornis were constructed and placed near the reef crest on the leeward side of Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean. Natural thickets of A. cervicornis were used to compare differences in fish species richness, diversity and density. Artificial reef structures were found to support higher diversity but lower abundance of fish. There was no significant difference in species richness between the natural and artificial reef stands. Overall, the artificial reef structures were able to provide some shelter to certain fish species, but were not able to support the fish community that is supported by natural stands of A. cervicornis.