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Annual and Spatial Variation of the Kelp Forest Fish Assemblage at San Nicolas Island, California

January 1, 1993

The kelp forest fishes of San Nicolas Island, California were studied from 1981-1986 to examine the causes of among-site and among-year variation in the fish assemblages. Fish counts and seven physical and biological variables were recorded at six sites around the island every spring and fall. Over the study period, a total of 45 fish species from 18 families were recorded, though members of nive families dominated at all sites. Among-site variation was considereable with two sites on the south side of the island having two to four times as many non-schooling fishes as the other four sites. Three variables, based on stepwise multiple regression techniques, were important predictors of site-specific fish abundance: 1) vertical relief; 2) sand cover and 3) understory algal cover. The total number of fishes varied interannually by a factor of three. Due to recruitment occuring each spring, there was a strong seasonal component to the variation in fish abundance. The extent of seasonal and interannual variaton of fish abundance is an indication of the variable nature of recruitment to this area. Over the 6 yr period, there were three distinct groupings of fish assemblages correspondong to pre- (Fall 1981 - Fall 1982), during spring (Spring 1983 - Spring 1984) and post El Nino (Fall 1984 - Fall 1986) sampling dates. During El Nino sampling period, there was considerable recruitment of southern affinity fish species, increasing both the abundance and diversity of the fish assemblages. Large-scale oceanographic processes, coupled with site-specific features of the reef habitat, produce a moderately diverse, though relatively abundant fish fauna at San Nicolas Island.

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