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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Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University have found that long hot summers can wreak havoc on the development of coral reef fish.

“The findings are a concern,” said study co-author, Professor Mark McCormick.In one of the longest studies of its kind, the researchers examined the impacts of water temperature, wind, rainfall and solar radiation on damselfish larvae around Lizard Island at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

“We found that when ocean temperatures warmed beyond about 28°C, the pace of larval development slowed,” said study lead author, Dr Ian McLeod.

“To see adverse effects over the current-day temperature range raises concerns about the serious negative effects we may see when the ocean temperature warms with climate change.”

Most marine fishes go through a larval development stage in the open ocean when they are more vulnerable to predators.

Dr McLeod said the longer larvae remain in this stage the less likely they are to survive.

“Faster growth during the larval stage should lead to a survival advantage because they can develop sooner and get out of the dangerous pelagic environment faster,” he says.

However there is a ray of hope. The researchers also found a high level of variability in larval development in relation to temperature and other weather conditions.

“This high level of variability likely means that some fish will thrive in the changing conditions and pass on their genes to future generations” said Dr McLeod.

The authors hope that the results for this study will be used to help predict the effects of climate change on larval development of fishes.

Dr Ian McLeod is a former PhD Candidate at ARC CoE and is now a Senior Research Scientist at TropWATER, James Cook University.

Contacts:
Dr Ian McLeod
E: ian.mcleod1@jcu.edu.au
M: 0449 84 0 082
P: 07 4781 5474

Professor Mark McCormick
E: mark.mccormick@jcu.edu.au
M: 0409 371 015

Paper:
Interannual variation in the larval development of a coral reef fish in response to temperature and associated environmental factors, by Ian M. McLeod, Rhondda E. Jones, Geoffrey P. Jones, Miwa Takahashi and Mark I. McCormick is published in the journal, Marine Biology. DOI 10.1007/s00227-015-2765-y

Images:
Please credit images as marked

Scientists have discovered that rising ocean temperatures slow the development of baby fish around the equator, raising concerns about the impact of global warming on fish and fisheries in the tropics.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University examined the impact of increasing water temperature on fish larvae.

They analysed fishes collected from over two thousand kilometres of ocean, from the sub-tropical southern Great Barrier Reef to northern Papua New Guinea, close to the equator.

“We found that where ocean temperatures warmed beyond a certain point as we neared the equator, at about 29 degrees, the pace of larval development slowed,” says study lead author, Dr Ian McLeod.

Most marine fish go through a larval development stage in the open ocean when they are more vulnerable to predators.

Dr McLeod says the longer larvae remain in this stage the less likely they are to survive.

“Faster growth during the larval stage should lead to a survival advantage because they can develop sooner and get out of the dangerous pelagic environment faster,” he says.

Study co-author, Professor Philip Munday says the findings are a concern.

“These populations may be particularly vulnerable to global warming,” Professor Munday says.

To analyse the early life history of the fish, the researchers studied their otoliths, or ear stones, which are put down in layers similar to tree rings as the fish develop.

“It’s like reading their diary, we can learn about their growth rates, how long they take to develop, we can even calculate their size when they settled back on the reef ” says Dr McLeod.

Professor Geoffrey Jones, also from the Coral CoE adds that the findings are a concern for the millions of people living around the equator who depend on fishing for food and their livelihoods.

“Many people in equatorial regions such as Papua New Guinea rely of fish as their main source of protein, so these results raise concerns about future food security in these places.”

~~~

 Paper:

‘Latitudinal variation in larval development of coral reef fishes: implications of a warming ocean’ by Ian McLeod, Mark McCormick, Philip Munday, Timothy Clark, Amelia Wenger, Rohan Brooker, Miwa Takahashi and Geoffrey Jones, appears in Marine Ecology Progress Series.

http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v521/p129-141/

Images:

Coral reef fish. Image: Ian McLeod

PNG Fishers. Image: Ian McLeod

Contacts:

Dr Ian McLeod – ian.mcleod1@jcu.edu.au,+ 61 (0) 4 4984 0082

Prof Philip Munday – philip.munday@jcu.edu.au, +61 (0) 7 4781 5341

Eleanor Gregory, Coral CoE communications – eleanor.gregory@jcu.edu.au, +61 (0) 428 785 895

 

 

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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