Professor Philip Munday has broad interests in the biology and ecology of marine fishes. His research program focuses on understanding and predicting the impacts of climate change on populations and communities of coral reef fishes, both directly through changes in the physical environment and indirectly through effects on coral reef habitat. Using laboratory and field-based experiments he is investigating the effects of increased temperature and ocean acidification on reef fish populations and testing their capacity for acclimation and adaptation to a rapidly changing environment. He has published over 100 papers in coral reef ecology, including major reviews and research papers on climate change impacts. Philip is a Professorial Research Fellow and ARC QEII Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and the School of Marine and Tropical Biology, at James Cook University.
Ocean acidification, caused by the uptake of additional CO2 from the atmosphere, will have significant impacts on calcifying marine organisms; but how will rising CO2 levels affect other marine species? In this talk I examine the effects of elevated CO2 on the biology and ecology of coral reef fishes. Experimental results indicate that life history traits of reef fishes are remarkably tolerant to CO2 levels that could occur in the ocean by the end of this century, however, sensory systems and behaviour are severely affected. Olfaction, hearing, learning, activity levels and lateralization are all impaired in reef fish larvae reared at near-future CO2 levels, leading to changes in settlement patterns and higher rates of mortality from predation in natural coral-reef habitat. The underlying mechanism appears to be a systemic effect of elevated CO2 on cognitive function and decision making in marine fish. Predicting the consequences of these changes, and the potential for adaptation, are critical for understanding the impacts of climate change in marine ecosystems.