Behaviour of settling coral reef fishes and supplementary mamagement tools
Coral reef fish larvae take an active role in selecting their settlement site and sensory cues may help them to orientate during this process. As settlement is a period of transition through which the majority of individuals do not survive, it is often a focal point for the management of coral reef populations, which are of high conservation concern. In this thesis, I used choice tests and in situ techniques to assess the response of settlement-stage larvae to a range of odour, light and acoustic cues and I found that larvae are more selective in their response to sensory stimuli than previously thought. Micro-habitat odours are not likely to be used during settlement orientation, and odour cues may be used to avoid inappropriate settlement sites. The photopositive behaviour of larval fish is likely to match their spectral sensitivity but this proved difficult to assess in situ because of the high amount of spatial and temporal variation in larval distribution. The positive response of settlement-stage fish to played back reef noise is location specific as well as being highly specific to the reef sound recording. To understand whether it might be the composition of reef sound that drives the selective response of larvae to acoustic cues, I took sound recordings while collecting visual data on fish diversity and the behavioural activity of a sound producing, or soniferous, fish species. I found that the variation in intensity of reef noise matches the activity patterns of a soniferous species, and when reef noise is most intense is when visual estimates on the diversity of the reef fish assemblage are decreased. This information provides the basis for understanding how changes in the reef soundscape may effect larval recruitment and has exciting implications for using sound recordings as a method to monitor coral reefs. Finally, I tested the viability of releasing reared larvae to boost depleted populations and found that collecting and holding settlement-stage fish for a week can increase survival, relative to natural settlement. These data demonstrate that applying our knowledge of the settlement behaviour of coral reef fish will make a significant contribution to developing tools for management.