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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 517:265-270 (2014)  -  DOI:

Habitat bleaching disrupts threat responses and persistence in anemonefish

Oona M. Lönnstedt1,2,*, Ashley J. Frisch1

1School of Marine and Tropical Biology and ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811 Australia
2Present address: Department of Ecology and Genetics, Limnology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Climate-induced habitat bleaching is linked to dramatic declines in diversity and abundance of coral reef fish; however, mechanisms underlying these declines are poorly understood. Here, we used in situ studies to demonstrate that bleaching can influence persistence of reef fish by affecting behaviours, including responses to a potential predation threat. When encountering the predatory rock cod Cephalophalis cyanostigma, anemonefish Amphiprion akindynos occupying healthy unbleached host anemones Heteractis crispa respond by feeding less and spending more time within the anemone tentacles. When the host anemone was experimentally bleached, these visual risk responses were compromised: A. akindynos continued to feed and did not seek shelter. The impaired behavioural response may prove detrimental to anemonefish populations as abundance levels of fish on bleached anemones was reduced by 60% within 3 d, which may have been the result of increased predation. Our data illustrate how climate-induced habitat degradation can drive declines of reef fish by potentially altering outcomes of predator–prey interactions.

KEY WORDS: Climate change · Habitat degradation · Zooxanthellae · Great Barrier Reef · Risk assessment

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Cite this article as: Lönnstedt OM, Frisch AJ (2014) Habitat bleaching disrupts threat responses and persistence in anemonefish. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 517:265-270.

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