Traits, landmarks and outlines: Three congruent sides of a tale on coral reef fish morphology

  • Marita Quitzau (Creator)
  • Romain Frelat (Creator)
  • Vincent Bonhomme (Creator)
  • Christian Möllmann (Creator)
  • Leo Nagelkerke (Creator)
  • Sonia Bejarano (Creator)



Quantifying the morphology of organisms remains fundamental in ecology given the form-function relationship. Morphology is quantifiable in traits, landmarks, and outlines, and the choice of approach may influence ecological conclusions to an unknown extent. Here, we apply these three approaches to 111 individual coral reef fish of 40 species common in Micronesia. We investigate the major dimensions of morphological variability among individuals, families, and predefined feeding functional groups. We find that although the approaches are complementary, they coincide in capturing elongation as the main dimension of variability. Further, the choice of approach led to different interpretations regarding the degree of morphological differentiation among taxonomic and feeding functional groups. We also use each morphology dataset to compute community-scale morphological diversity on Palauan reefs and investigate how the choice of dataset affects the detection of differences among sites and wave exposure levels. The exact ranking of sites from highest to lowest morphological diversity was sensitive to the approach used, but not the broad spatial pattern of morphological diversity. Conclusions regarding the effect of wave exposure on morphological diversity were robust to the approach used. Biodiversity hotspots (e.g. areas of exceptionally high diversity and/or endemism) are considered important conservation targets but their location may depend on the biodiversity metric used. In the same vein, our results caution against labelling particular sites as morphological diversity hotspots when metrics consider only a single aspect of morphology.
Date made available27 Jan 2022
PublisherWageningen University & Research
Geographical coveragePalau

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