Coral recovery may not herald the return of fishes on damaged coral reefs

D.R. Bellwood, A.H. Baird, M. Depczynski, A. Gonzalez-Cabello, A.S. Hoey, C. Lefevre, J.K. Tanner
Oecologia, volume 170, issue 2, pp. 567-573, (2012)

Coral recovery may not herald the return of fishes on damaged coral reefs

Keywords

Coral reefs,   Resilience,  Bleaching,   Phase shifts,  Habitat loss

Abstract

​The dynamic nature of coral reefs offers a rare opportunity to examine the response of ecosystems to disruption due to climate change. In 1998, the Great Barrier Reef experienced widespread coral bleaching and mortality. As a result, cryptobenthic fish assemblages underwent a dramatic phase-shift. Thirteen years, and up to 96 fish generations later, the cryptobenthic fish assemblage has not returned to its pre-bleach configuration. This is despite coral abundances returning to, or exceeding, pre-bleach values. The post-bleach fish assemblage exhibits no evidence of recovery. If these short-lived fish species are a model for their longer-lived counterparts, they suggest that (1) the full effects of the 1998 bleaching event on long-lived fish populations have yet to be seen, (2) it may take decades, or more, before recovery or regeneration of these long-lived species will begin, and (3) fish assemblages may not recover to their previous composition despite the return of corals.

Code

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-012-2306-z

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