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People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.

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Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

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Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

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Coral Bleaching

Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Clever fish play it cool

05
Oct 2016

Ocean warming is occurring at such a rapid rate that fish are searching for cooler waters to call home.

A team of international scientists led by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University conducted an experiment with coral reef fish from Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef, to see how they respond to climate change.

“We exposed groups of blue-green damselfish (Chromis viridis) to five different temperatures between 23 and 33 degrees during the 27 week period,” says Dr Jodie Rummer.

“One fish from each group was then placed inside two adjoining tanks where the water temperature can rise and fall. The fish were pretty smart. When it got too hot or cold they moved to the other side,” she says.

“Overall, they favoured 29°C which was also the best temperature for a healthy metabolic rate. Anything higher than that and the fish needed 2-3 times more energy to cope.”

“Fish that were restricted to 33°C lost 30% of their body weight and some of them died,” says lead author Adam Habary.

“These temperatures are very realistic, because during Australia’s worst bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef earlier this year, sea surface temperatures at Lizard Island reached very similar heights,” he says.

The results show there’s another option for fish other than adapting to rapid ocean warming. Being stressed is a strong motivator for fish to move to more favourable conditions. But if they relocate, there could be serious implications for tropical fish populations.

“Coral reef fish from the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef may need to move hundreds of kilometres south, further away from the Equator if temperatures continue to rise,” says Rummer.

“We know that fish have a long evolutionary history of adapting to changing conditions, but right now the climate is changing at a rate faster than has ever been documented in human history.

“If fish lack flexibility in how their body responds to elevated temperatures and can’t genetically adapt at a rate that keeps pace with how fast the climate is changing..then we have to expect them to move or die.

“Increases in ocean temperatures could change coral reef biodiversity forever, meaning that the Great Barrier Reef as we know it today, could be very different in the future,” she says.

The paper Adapt, move or die – how will tropical coral reef fishes cope with ocean warming has been published in the journal Global Change Biology.

 

 

Paper:

Adapt, Move or Die – how will tropical coral reef fishes cope with ocean warming.
Adam Habary, Jacob L. Johansen, Tiffany J, Nay, John F. Steffensen, Jodie L, Rummer.
Journal of Global Change Biology.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.13488/pdf

 

Images:

http://bit.ly/2c9NYOM

 

Contact:

Jodie Rummer
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Email: jodie.rummer@jcu.edu.au
Phone: +61 (0) 439 166 171 
 

Adam Habary
University of Copenhagen
Email: adamhabary@hotmail.com
Phone: +45 23709690

 

Kylie Simmonds
Communications Manager
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Email: kylie.simmonds1@jcu.edu.au
Phone: 0428 785 895 

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au