1

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.

2

Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

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

3

Responding to a changing world

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

Coral Bleaching

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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Scientists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University say more needs to be done to protect vulnerable table corals on the Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers studying the role of table corals have found that they provide vital sun protection for large fish in shallow reef areas.

They found that the corals are so important that if lost, the fish that depend on them will leave the reef.

“The loss of table corals denies fishes important habitat, which they use to shelter from the sun, avoiding harmful UV-radiation, just as we might sit under an umbrella at the beach,” says study lead author James Kerry.

“Large fishes maintain balanced coral reef ecosystems, they’re the predators that help control fish populations,” says study co-author Professor David Bellwood.

Table corals are particularly vulnerable – and are the preferred meal of the Crown of Thorns Starfish. Credits: James Kerry

“These fish are important for reefs and people; lose your table corals and you lose your coral trout,” Professor Bellwood explains.

The scientists say this is particularly concerning as table corals are especially vulnerable to the pressures currently facing the Great Barrier Reef.

The corals are highly susceptible to ocean acidification and bleaching, and are the preferred meal of the destructive crown of thorns starfish.

Given their shape, table corals are also easily toppled and are often destroyed in cyclones.

“Ultimately we need to conserve table corals because they are the primary structure on the Reef that provides shelter from the sun’s harmful rays. However, because they are so vulnerable to climate change and other growing threats, this is going to be a major challenge,” James Kerry says.

“The research suggests that we need to do everything we can to promote the health of the Great Barrier Reef, and in doing so, reduce the multiple threats facing these valuable corals.”

 ~~~

Papers:
The functional role of tabular structures for large reef fishes: avoiding predators or solar irradiance? By J.T. Kerry and D.R. Bellwood is published in the journal Coral Reefs.
DOI 10.1007/s00338-015-1275-1
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00338-015-1275-1#page-1

Do Tabular corals constitute keystone structures for fishes on coral reefs? By J.T Kerry and D.R. Bellwood is published in the journal Coral Reefs
DOI 10.1007/s00338-014-1232-4
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00338-014-1232-4

Images and video:
Image credit – James Kerry
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/3p6m9fzudy3whpq/AAB-XHZBhb_U1acvU5bGJfEOa?dl=0

Contacts:
James Kerry – mr.james.kerry@gmail.com +61 (0) 407475576
Prof David Bellwood – david.bellwood@jcu.edu.au +61 (0) 47814447
Eleanor Gregory – eleanor.gregory@jcu.edu.au +61 (0) 428 785 895

One of Australia’s leading coral reef ecologists fears that reef biodiversity may not provide the level of insurance for ecosystem survival that we once thought.

In an international study published today, Professor David Bellwood from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) says we need to identify and protect the most important species within reef ecosystems.

In coral reefs, just as in any modern-day society, there are vital jobs that keep the ecosystem safe and functioning.

Professor Bellwood says, in many cases, a single species of fish carries out a unique and essential role, making the ecosystem vulnerable to loss of that species.

Professor Bellwood and a team of international colleagues, led by Professor David Mouillot from the University of Montpellier, examined the ‘jobs’ of over six thousand coral reef fish species across 169 locations worldwide.

“What we often assume is that if we lose one species on a reef, there are many others that can step in and take over their job,” Professor Bellwood explains.

But he and his colleagues fear that’s not the case. They believe if a reef ecosystem were to lose a species that carried out a ‘specialist’ role, the impact could be profound.

“We could easily lose a type of fish that has no substitute, no replacement,” Professor Bellwood says.

“Unfortunately we have become complacent, we have assumed that biodiversity will buy us some time and give us some insurance, but that’s not necessarily the case.”

“It’s not about numbers of species,” adds Professor David Mouillot. “Biodiversity is important and desirable in an ecosystem, but it is not necessarily the key to being safe and secure”.

Professor Bellwood singles out the parrotfish, explaining that out of thousands of reef fish species, on the Great Barrier Reef only one parrotfish species regularly performs the task of scraping and cleaning inshore coral reefs.

“This parrotfish is a particularly valuable species,” he says, likening this finding to a large city with many inhabitants, but only one doctor.

“To protect ecosystems, we need to ensure that specific jobs are maintained,” Professor Bellwood says. “And that means we must protect the fish that do them.”

PAPER

‘Functional over-redundancy and high functional vulnerability in global fish faunas on tropical reefs’ by David Mouillot, Sébastien Villéger, Valeriano Parravicini, Michel Kulbicki, Jesus Ernesto Arias-González, Mariana Bender, Pascale Chabanet, Sergio R. Floeter, Alan Friedlander, Laurent Vigliola, and David R. Bellwood appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper is available on request.

CONTACTS:

Professor David Bellwood, Coral CoE: +44 (0) 7901 236 784, or
+61 (0) 407 175 007, david.bellwood@jcu.edu.au
(David Bellwood is travelling in the UK and is contactable on the above number between 1630 – 0600 AEST daily)

Eleanor Gregory, Communications Manager Coral CoE: +61 (0) 7  4781 6067,
0428 785 895 eleanor.gregory@jcu.edu.au

Professor David Mouillot, University of Montpellier: +33 (0) 46 714 3719
david.mouillot@univ-montp2.fr

 

 

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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