Temperature influences habitat preference of coral reef fishes: Will generalists become more specialised in a warming ocean?

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Journal Article
Global Change Biology, 2018, 24 (7), pp. 3158 - 3169
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© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Climate change is expected to pose a significant risk to species that exhibit strong behavioural preferences for specific habitat types, with generalist species assumed to be less vulnerable. In this study, we conducted habitat choice experiments to determine how water temperature influences habitat preference for three common species of coral reef damselfish (Pomacentridae) that differ in their levels of habitat specialisation. The lemon damselfish Pomacentrus moluccensis, a habitat specialist, consistently selected complex coral habitat across all temperature treatments (selected based on local average seasonal temperatures naturally experienced in situ: ambient winter 22°C; ambient summer 28°C; and elevated 31°C). Unexpectedly, the neon damselfish Pomacentrus coelestis and scissortail sergeant Abudefduf sexfasciatus, both of which have more generalist habitat associations, developed strong habitat preferences (for complex coral and boulder habitat, respectively) at the elevated temperature treatment (31°C) compared to no single preferred habitat at 22°C or 28°C. The observed shifts in habitat preference with temperature suggest that we may be currently underestimating the vulnerability of some habitat generalists to climate change and highlight that the ongoing loss of complex live coral through coral bleaching could further exacerbate resource overlap and species competition in ways not currently considered in climate change models.
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