Performance of tropical fish recruiting to temperate habitats: Role of ambient temperature and implications of climate change

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Journal Article
Marine Ecology Progress Series, 2009, 384 pp. 231 - 239
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The warming of coastal oceans due to climate change is increasing the overwinter survival of tropical fishes transported to temperate latitudes by ocean currents. However, the processes governing early post-arrival mortality are complex and can result in minimum threshold temperatures for overwinter survival, which are greater than those predicted based upon physiological temperature tolerances alone. This 3.5 mo laboratory study monitored the early performance of a tropical damselfish Abudefduf vaigiensis that occurs commonly during austral summer along the SE Australian coast, under nominal summer and winter water temperatures, and compares results with a co-occurring year-round resident of the same family, Parma microlepis. Survivorship, feeding rate, growth and burst swimming ability (as a measure of predator escape ability) were all reduced for the tropical species at winter water temperatures compared to those in summer, whereas the temperate species experienced no mortality and only feeding rate was reduced at colder temperatures. These results suggest that observed minimum threshold survival temperatures may be greater than predicted by physiology alone, due to lowered food intake combined with increased predation risk (a longer time at vulnerable sizes and reduced escape ability). Overwinter survival is a significant hurdle in pole-ward range expansions of tropical fishes, and a better understanding of its complex processes will allow for more accurate predictions of changes in biodiversity as coastal ocean temperatures continue to increase due to climate change.
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