Reef-scale variability in fish and coral assemblages on the central Great Barrier Reef
Coral reefs are threatened by changing climatic conditions, which will potentially alter the frequency and severity of disturbances in coming decades, casting doubt over the potential for reefs to recover and re-assemble the structure of their fish and coral assemblages. Here, fish and coral assemblages were examined at four reefs similar in size, aspect, disturbance history and latitudinal position from 2006 to 2016. We quantified variation in species and functional level assemblage structure among reefs before and after disturbance and examined whether there was evidence of any recovery. Fish and benthic assemblages varied in density and diversity, but the proportion of fish functional groups was similar among reefs. While some post-disturbance recovery of the benthos was evident, changes in fish functional structure did not uniformly reflect benthic recovery patterns. The apparent disconnect between changes in fish community structure and coral recovery may be due to lagged responses of some fishes post-disturbance, lack of reliance on hard coral cover by some fish trophic groups, or retention of habitat complexity. These results highlight the importance of reef-scale data in determining capacity of coral reefs to recover from disturbance.
We would like to thank the Australian Institute of Marine Science, specifically the Long-Term Monitoring Program team and crew of the RV ‘Cape Ferguson’ for collection of data used in this study. Additional thanks to Mike Cappo and Murray Logan from AIMS, and Rie Hagihara from James Cook University for statistical advice. The comments and suggestions of four reviewers and the subject editor, Dr. Kendall Clements, greatly improved this manuscript.
Access to resources was provided through the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University with no additional funding acquired. We would like to thank the Australian Government and the James Cook University JCUPRS scholarship to SLB for support to undertake the research for this manuscript.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest to disclose.
Human and animal rights
All survey and field operations from data collected for this study were operated under approved research permits granted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
- Bates D, Maechler M, Bolker B, Walker S (2013) lme4: Linear mixed effects models using Eigen and S4. R package version 1.0-4. http://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/lme4/index. Accessed 10 July 2017
- Emslie MJ, Logan M, Williamson DH, Ayling AM, MacNeil MA, Ceccarelli D, Cheal AJ, Evans RD, Johns KA, Jonker MJ, Miller IR, Osborne K, Russ GR, Sweatman HPA (2015) Expectations and outcomes of reserve network performance following re-zoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Curr Biol 25:983–992CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Field CB, Barros VR, Dokken D, Mach K, Mastrandrea M, Bilir T, Chatterjee M, Ebi K, Estrada Y, Genova R (2014) IPCC, 2014: climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Part A: global and sectoral aspects. In: Contribution of working group II to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge/New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Green AL, Bellwood DR (2009) Monitoring functional groups of herbivorous reef fishes as indicators of coral reef resilience – a practical guide for coral reef managers in the Asia Pacific Region. IUCN resilience science group working paper series – No 7. IUCN, GlandGoogle Scholar
- Halford AR, Thompson AA (1994) Visual census surveys of reef fish. Standard operation procedure 3. Australian Institute of Marine Science, TownsvilleGoogle Scholar
- Hughes TP (1994) Catastrophes, phase shifts, and large-scale degradation of a Caribbean coral reef. Sci AAAS Wkly Pap Ed 265:1547–1551Google Scholar
- Jackson J, Donovan M, Cramer K, Lam V (2014) Status and trends of Caribbean coral reefs. Gland: Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, IUCN. http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/caribbean_coral_reefs___status_report_1970_2012.pdf. Accessed 1 Jan 2018
- Jonker M, Johns K, Osborne K (2008) Surveys of benthic reef communities using underwater digital photography and counts of juvenile corals. In: Long-term monitoring of the Great Barrier Reef. Standard operational procedure 10. Australian Institute of Marine ScienceGoogle Scholar
- Oksanen J, Guillaume F, Blanchet MF, Kindt R, Legendre P, McGlinn D, Minchin PR, O’Hara RB, Simplson GL, Solymos P, Henry M, Stevens H, Szoecs E, Wagner H (2017) vegan: Community ecology package. R package version 2.4-2. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=vegan. Accessed 1 Feb 2017
- Pratchett MS, Munday P, Wilson SK, Graham NA, Cinner JE, Bellwood DR, Jones GP, Polunin N, McClanahan T (2008) Effects of climate-induced coral bleaching on coral-reef fishes. Ecol Econ Conseq Oceanogr Mar Biol Annu Rev 46:251–296Google Scholar
- R Core Team (2018) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna. https://www.R-project.org. Accessed 25 Apr 2018
- Sheppard C, Davy S, Pilling G, Graham N (2017) The biology of coral reefs. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar