The effects of habitat fragmentation on the diversity of nekton inhabiting subtropical seagrass meadows
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Habitat fragmentation is often regarded as a biodiversity threat associated with habitat degradation; however, research has also revealed beneficial effects on biodiversity as well, depending on the ecosystem and species community. This study examined the biodiversity of small nekton residing in seagrass meadows characterized by three levels of habitat fragmentation, and as a habitat gradient comprised of measures such as habitat amount, connectivity, patch shape, and proximity. Landscapes were mapped using recent advances in GPS and GIS technology, and analyzed using established methods from research in terrestrial ecosystems. Species richness was not significantly different as a function of fragmentation regardless of season, suggesting that the amount of habitat and configuration of several patches in fragmented habitats is sufficient to support comparable numbers of species in several patches compared to communities in large, continuous seagrass meadows. Species evenness declined significantly in fragmented habitats versus continuous ones in both seasons. Within fragmented landscapes, evenness progressively declined as habitat amount and connectivity decreased and patch isolation and density increased, suggesting that changes in landscape qualities can differentially impact processes supporting metapopulations such as dispersal and reproduction in certain species, thereby influencing community structure. Analyses that included measures of habitat connectivity, proximity, and patch density in addition to habitat amount accounted for more variability in species evenness than those just containing percent cover, and showed that fragmentation’s impacts can differ geographically. These data suggest that community resilience to fragmentation can differ between similar animal communities residing in separate locations, and that landscape configuration plays an important role in determining how communities respond to fragmentation after a threshold of change in habitat amount has been exceeded.