Reef fish assemblage relationships with in situ and lidar topographic measurements across the seascape were analyzed to evaluate the possibility of using lidar metrics as a proxy for prediction models. In situ topographic complexity (i.e., linear rugosity) was measured from 346 point-count fish surveys spanning the reef seascape. Lidar topographic measurements (i.e., surface rugosity, elevation, and volume) were obtained from a high-resolution lidar bathymetric dataset of each survey's footprint. The survey sites were characterized by an independently derived benthic habitat map. Reef fish abundance and species richness appeared to increase with increasing topographic complexity. Although significant, the relationship was weak. Habitat characterization showed that these relationships changed across the seascape. The relationship between topographic complexity and species richness was more pronounced in shallow habitats, whereas, topographic complexity related more closely to abundance in offshore habitats. In situ rugosity measurement yielded the best explanation of fish assemblage structure parameters, but the weaker lidar metric correlations followed similar trends. Accordingly, lidar-measured topographic complexity may be a useful metric for reef fish distributional models. Such predictive models could have many scientific and management applications including: estimating fish stocks, viewing data trends across the seascape, and designing marine protected areas. However, better understanding of the appropriate spatial scale, measurement scale, and fish operational scale is needed, as well as more research on the dynamics of how reef fishes relate to topographic complexity and other ecological factors influencing distributions across the seascape.
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