MEPS 245:205-212 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps245205

Changes in a fish assemblage after a coral bleaching event

David J. Booth1,*, Giglia A. Beretta2

1Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Technology, Westbourne Street, Gore Hill, New South Wales 2065, Australia
2School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia

ABSTRACT: Large-scale bleaching events are major disturbances to coral health and community structure, but may also affect other coral reef taxa, such as fishes. In 1997-1998, wide-spread coral bleaching and mortality occurred across the Great Barrier Reef, caused by increases in sea surface temperatures resulting from El Niño Southern Oscillation. As part of this event, in February-March 1998, there was extensive bleaching within One Tree Island lagoon (southern Great Barrier Reef), such that almost 12 mo later there was a significant reduction of live coral cover at some sites. We monitored the distribution of adults and recruitment of damselfishes (Pomacentridae) to sites within One Tree Island in 1993-1995 and in 1999. Fish species that normally associate with live corals showed relatively lower recruitment at bleached sites compared to the same sites pre-bleaching or to recovered sites and, as a result, species diversity and assemblage structure of recruits changed. Compared to 1993/1995 densities, adult Pomacentrus wardi, P. moluccensis and Chrysiptera rollandi densities dropped at bleached sites, but not at unbleached sites. While P. moluccensis directly associate with live corals, the other 2 species do not. This study has demonstrated that indirect effects of bleaching can include changes in assemblage structure of reef fish adults and recruits.


KEY WORDS: Coral bleaching · Damselfishes · Fish diversity · Live coral cover · Recruitment


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