Submarine groundwater springs are characterized by distinct fish communities

The inflow of terrestrial groundwater into the ocean is increasingly recognized as an important local source of nutrients and pollutants to coastal ecosystems. Although there is evidence of a link between fresh submarine groundwater discharge (SGD)‐derived nutrients and primary producer and primary consumer abundances, the effects of fresh SGD on the productivity of higher trophic levels such as ichthyofaunal communities remain unclear. To further investigate this relationship, we sampled three sites inside a coral reef lagoon in Mauritius: One site entailing six distinct groundwater springs, a site highly influenced by freshwater influx through the springs, and a strictly marine control site. Using remote underwater video surveys, we found that fish abundances were significantly higher at the groundwater springs than at the other two sampling sites.Principal component analyses showed that the springs and the spring‐influenced part of the lagoon were best described by elevated water nutrient loadings, whereas the control site was characterized by higher water salinity and pH. Macroalgae cover was highest at the control site and the springs. Herbivores and invertivores dominated the fish community at the springs, in contrast to generalists at the control site. At the spring‐influenced site, we mainly encountered high coral/turf algae cover and high abundances of associated fish feeding groups (territorial farmers, corallivores). Our results provide evidence of a fresh SGD‐driven relationship between altered hydrography and distinct fish communities with elevated abundances at groundwater springs in a coral reef lagoon. These findings suggest that the management and assessment of secondary consumer productivity in tropical lagoons should take into account the effects of groundwater springs.



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