Growth of reef fishes in response to live coral cover

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 2009, 373 (1), pp. 45 - 49
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Although the global decline in coral reef health is likely to have profound effects on reef associated fishes, these effects are poorly understood. While declining coral cover can reduce the abundance of reef fishes through direct effects on recruitment and/or mortality, recent evidence suggests that individuals may survive in disturbed habitats, but may experience sublethal reductions in their condition. This study examined the response of 2 coral associated damselfishes (Pomacentridae), Chrysiptera parasema and Dascyllus melanurus, to varying levels of live coral cover. Growth, persistence, and the condition of individuals were quantified on replicate coral colonies in 3 coral treatments: 100% live coral (control), 50% live coral (partial) and 0% live coral (dead). The growth rates of both species were directly related to the percentage live coral cover, with individuals associated with dead corals exhibiting the slowest growth, and highest growth on control corals. Such differences in individual growth between treatments were apparent after 29 d. There was no significant difference in the numbers of fishes persisting or the physiological condition of individuals between different treatments on this time-scale. Slower growth in disturbed habitats will delay the onset of maturity, reduce lifetime fecundity and increase individual's vulnerability to gape-limited predation. Hence, immediate effects on recruitment and survival may underestimate the longer-term impacts of declining coral on the structure and diversity of coral-associated reef fish communities. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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