Recruitment of juvenile fishes to coral grids, each comprising 4 colonies of 3 species of coral (Acropora formosa, Seriatopora hystrix and Pocillopora damicornis), was examined at 4 widely separated sites within the lagoon of One Tree Reef over two successive summers and intervening months (November 1976–January 1978). Recruitment was highly seasonal, with most recruitment occurring during summer. For many species, numbers settling differed greatly from year to year with total numbers (over all sites) differing as much as an order of magnitude between summers. Many fish species demonstrated marked preference among the three coral species as settling sites. The distribution of each of the 20 commonest species across the 4 lagoon sites differed significantly from a random pattern. Differences of an order of magnitude were common in the numbers of a given species recruited to different sites. Each site was preferred by at least one species. In each of 5 cases examined, the pattern of settlement of the species across the 4 sites changed significantly from one summer to the next. The distribution of recruits of a number of species corresponded to the distribution of adults, but for other species there was no correspondence. It is concluded that, at the spatial scale examined, patterns of recruitment of some taxa are consistently more variable than those of other taxa. The implications of spatial variability of recruitment for the distribution of adult fish is discussed and the importance of being able to discriminate such natural variability from other kinds of change is stressed.
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