Nearshore fish faunas from 32 sites along 1500 km coastline of temperate south-western Australia were sampled by seine net between 1991 and 1992 to examine the species composition in sandy surf zones along this region, and to determine whether it is influenced by adjacent nearshore habitats and the warm southward flowing Leeuwin Current. Although the ichthyofauna was diverse, with 95 species from 47 families recorded, it was numerically dominated by only a few species. Species of Atherinidae, Mugilidae, Tetraodontidae, Clupeidae and Pomatomidae, such as Atherinomorus ogilbyi, Leptatherina presbyteroides, Mugil cephalus, Aldrichetta forsteri, Torquigener pleurogramma, Hyperlophus vittatus, Spratelloides robustus and Pomatomus saltatrix, were often common to these surf zones. When the species composition of the surf zones was compared with that found in adjacent nearshore habitats, 38 and 42% of the species were shared with reefs and seagrass beds, respectively, and 22% were present in all three habitats. Classification and ordination demonstrated that the faunal composition on the west coast was distinct from that on the south coast, and within each of these regions there were discrete assemblages. There was a marked decline in the number of species on the south coast, with 20 to 66 species reported from the six west-coast assemblages and 11 to 16 species collected from the four south-coast assemblages. A high proportion of resident species was found in the surf zones on both coasts; however, there was a smaller contribution of transient species on the south coast than on the west coast. This decline in transient species was associated with the absence of tropical species on the latter coast. Benthic invertevores were dominant on both coasts, while trophic diversity decreased and the proportion of zooplanktivores increased on the south coast. These differences in the characteristics of the fish fauna between the two coasts can be related to the presence of seagrass beds and limestone patch reef adjacent to sandy surf-zone areas on the west coast which provide more microhabitats for fish. The presence of inshore limestone reefs along the west coast moderates wave energy, producing more sheltered and temporally stable surf zones. The lower number of species on the south coast can also be attributed to the reduced influence of the Leeuwin Current. This southward flowing current acts as a mechanism for the dispersal of tropical species which display no regular association with the surf zones on the lower west coast.
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