Abstract: Ecological conditions on coral reefs are shifting. Fishes are an integral part of these restructuring ecosystems and can support ecological stability. However, the extent to which fishes will be able to sustain their role on reefs, will depend on how they can cope with the patchy and dynamic perturbations to reefs. Can fishes move if habitat degrades underneath them, or will they die? Will their presence – and ecological impact – be compressed into small islands of high-quality reef? Collecting the needed data across space and time is difficult – especially underwater. Here I present my PhD research, where I attempted to tease apart the deceptively simple sounding question: how do fishes use space? A first step is to disentangle the term “spatial behaviour” and identify what we think it means, versus finding new interpretations that offer new insights. The second challenge is to develop feasible tools to quantify patterns across space and time; without the use of GPS or telemetry and while being restricted by SCUBA dives. My findings show that the incorporation of spatio-temporal dynamics can be achieved with relatively simple, low-tech methods. Considering patchiness and connectivity is a promising starting point.
Biography: Robert (Bert) is a coral reef fish ecologist who is interested in how fishes can influence the trajectories of coral reefs. After a B.Sc. in Biology in Munich, and his M.Sc. at James Cook University, he completed his PhD on the spatial ecology of coral reef fishes in 2020, under supervision of Prof David Bellwood and Prof Graeme Cumming. While Bert likes maps, and enjoys working on fishes, his passion lies in trying to understand the complexity of ecology using simple ideas, words and empirical data. He believes to support coral reefs through the Anthropocene, we need more and better data, but also new perspectives. He now works as a Post Doc in the Reef Function Hub at James Cook University and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. His current work focuses on the semantics, conceptual opportunities, and possible pitfalls of “functional traits” in coral reef ecology.