Abstract: Coral reefs are among the most diverse and productive ecosystem’s worldwide, but their future is threatened by a host of anthropogenic disturbances. To protect reefs and their services to humanity, calls for the management of “coral reef ecosystem functioning” have strengthened. However, despite many decades of excellent research, our understanding of what makes a reef “functional” or not is still remarkably limited. In my talk, I highlight the surprising role of a thus far overlooked, but highly diverse group of coral reef animals for coral reef ecosystem functioning. Specifically, by employing a hierarchical approach that re-builds the role of ‘cryptobenthic’ fishes, from species’ niches to energy fluxes throughout ecosystems, I show that the world’s smallest marine vertebrates may play a fundamental part in the recycling of energy and nutrients on chronically nutrient-poor coral reefs. In doing so, I also offer a new perspective on the utility of trait based approaches in animal ecology and conservation challenges in the 21st century related to marine ecosystems.
Biography: Simon Brandl is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and a proud JCU and COE alumni. He completed his PhD at JCU in 2015, examining the functional niches of herbivorous coral reef fishes. He then obtained a postdoctoral research fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution to examine the diversity and ecological roles of cryptobenthic reef fishes. He instensified this line of research during an NSERC Banting fellowship at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and as a postdoctoral researcher at CRIOBE in France. Simon aims to integrate organismal niches with patterns of community assembly and, ultimately, the rates at which energy and nutrients are moving through ecosystems. His research revolves around reef fishes, with a specific focus on the ‘hidden half’: tiny fishes that account for approximately half of all fish species and individuals, but are rarely noticed due to their small size and cryptic lifestyle.