Young fishes persist despite coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef

Unprecedented global bleaching events have led to extensive loss of corals. This is expected to lead to extensive losses of obligate coral-dependent fishes. In this study, Sharon Wismer et al., used a novel, spatially-matched census approach to examine the nature of fish-coral dependency across two mass coral bleaching events. Despite a >40% loss of coral cover, and the ecological extinction of functionally important habitat-providing Acropora corals, they showed that the populations of obligate coral-dependent fishes, including Pomacentrus moluccensis, persisted and – critically – recruitment was maintained. Fishes used a wide range of alternate reef habitats, including other coral genera and dead coral substrata. Labile habitat associations of ‘obligate’ coral-dependent fishes suggest that recruitment may be sustained on future reefs that lack Acropora, following devastating climatic disturbances. This persistence without Acropora corals offers grounds for cautious optimism; for coral-dwelling fishes, corals may be a preferred habitat, not an obligate requirement.

Young fishes persist despite coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef

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