Proximity to land determines how coral reef communities respond to climate change events

ScienceDaily | 2/22/2019 | Staff
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A new international study has found that the marine wildlife that live amongst the coral are affected differently by devastating climate change events, depending on how close to the mainland they are found.

The research, co-authored by Laura Richardson from the University of Exeter, studied the effect of the natural disasters on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) -- which is home to more than 1,500 species of fish including clownfish, parrotfish and lionfish.

Research - Areas - GBR - Reefs - Mainland

The research studied three specific areas of the GBR -- the inner reefs closest to the mainland, middle-shelf reefs, and outer-shelf reefs, where the continental shelf drops off into the Coral Sea. Surveys of fish and coral reef habitat were made both five years before and six months after two severe cyclones and a mass coral bleaching event.

While those environmental events caused substantial and widespread loss of coral across all reefs, the numbers of herbivorous fishes remained stable (inner-shelf reefs) or even increased (middle- and outer-shelf reefs).

Dr - Richardson - Biologist - University - Exeter

Dr Richardson, a marine biologist at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus said: "After widespread loss of corals due to large storms or severe coral bleaching events, herbivorous reef fish are vital for removing seaweed that starts to grow over the dead corals, so that new corals can grow, and surviving corals can recover.

"Understanding how these herbivorous fish respond across the continental shelf highlights where reefs may be more vulnerable and possibly slower to recover.

Number - Fish - Reefs - Study - Proliferation

"The increased number of herbivorous fish on some reefs in this study is highly promising as they can help prevent the proliferation of seaweed after these huge disturbances."

Importantly, however, the study showed that the number of herbivorous fish species decreased following the environmental events.

Loss - Species - Concern - Functioning - Reefs

"The loss of species is of greatest concern, affecting the functioning of these reefs and their capacity to respond to future disturbances. It may be setting...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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