"For example, we know that the loss of seaweed-eating grazing fishes can lead to coral reefs which have suffered some other form of disturbance being replaced by weeds. Protecting these fish, on the other hand, gives the corals a much better chance to recover.
"Where there is a widespread death of corals from a climate-driven event such as bleaching, the fish most affected are the ones that feed or shelter almost exclusively on coral. However when corals die off and the reef structure collapses, small reef fish generally are much more exposed to predators.
"By understanding which species and groups of fish are most at risk, we can better manage coral reefs and fish populations to ensure their survival in times of increasing human and climate pressure," adds Dr Shaun Wilson of the Western Australian Department for Environment and Conservation.
The study does, however, offer encouragement by showing that the fish most at risk from climate change are seldom those most at risk from overfishing or other direct human impacts, pointing to scope to manage reef systems and fishing effort in ways that will protect a desirable mix of fish species that promote ecosystem stability.
"Critically, the species of fish that are important in controlling seaweeds and outbreaks of deleterious invertebrate species are more vulnerable to fishing than they are to climate change disturbances on coral reefs. This is encouraging, since local and regional commitment to fisheries management action can promote coral recovery between disturbances such as storms and coral bleaching events," explains Dr Wilson.
They conclude that identifying the fish species most at risk and most important to ecosystem stability and then managing coral reefs to maintain their populations will help 'buy time' while the world grapples with the challenge of limiting carbon emissions and the resulting climate change.
The team adds that their nove
|Contact: Nick Graham|
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies