Using standardized fish-specific autonomous reef monitoring structures (FARMS) to quantify cryptobenthic fish communities


1.  Biodiversity inventories and monitoring techniques for marine fishes often over-look small (<5  cm), bottom-associated (‘cryptobenthic’) fishes, and few stand-ardized, comparative assessments of cryptobenthic fish communities exist. We sought to develop a standardized, quantitative survey method for cryptobenthic fishes that permits their sampling across a variety of habitats and conditions.

2.  Fish-   specific autonomous reef monitoring structures (FARMS) are designed to sample cryptobenthic fishes using a suite of accessible and affordable materials. To generate a variety of microhabitats, FARMS consist of three layers of stacked PVC pipes in three different sizes, as well as a bottom and top level of loose PVC pipe fragments in a mesh basket. We deployed FARMS across a variety of habitats, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, oyster reefs, mangroves, and soft- bottom habitats across six locations (Hawai'i, Texas, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and Curaçao).

3.  From shallow estuaries to coral reefs beyond 100 m depth, FARMS attracted distinct communities of native cryptobenthic fishes with strong site or habitat speci ficity. Comparing the FARMS to communities sampled with alternative methods (enclosed clove-oil stations on coral reefs in Panama and oyster sampling units on oyster reefs in Texas) suggests that FARMS yield a subset of cryptobenthic fishspecies that are representative of those present on local coral and oyster reefs. While FARMS yield fewer individuals per sample, they are efficient sampling de-vices relative to the sampled area.

4.  We demonstrate that FARMS represent a useful tool for standardized collections of cryptobenthic fishes. While natural substrata are bound to yield more mature communities with a larger number of individuals and wider range of specialist spe-cies, the potential to deploy and retrieve FARMS in turbid environments, beyond regular SCUBA depth, and where fish collections using anaesthetics or ichthyo-cides are forbidden suggests that they are a valuable complementary technique to survey fishes in aquatic ecosystems. Deploying FARMS in locations and habi-tats where cryptobenthic fish communities have not been studied in detail may yield many valuable specimens of unknown or poorly known species.KEYWORDSartificial habitat, biodiversity, biogeography, coral reef fishes, fish trap, fisheries-independent sampling, taxonomic inventory

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