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Tufts University

Publication Date

Winter 2017

Abstract

Coral reefs are characterized by their dynamic ecological processes that supports a high diversity through the recruitment of marine species and temporal disturbances that can have positive effects on the system. In the face of global climate change however, coral reefs face intense coral bleaching and increased degradation as they may begin to have less time to recover between bleaching events in the near future. Little is known on the long term effects of coral bleaching and habitat degradation on reef fish communities and much less is known about the mechanisms that bring about changes to reef fish assemblages.

This study used adult and juvenile populations as before and after snapshots, respectively, to study the effects of coral bleaching on a Damselfish community one year after a major bleaching event. This project aimed to use juvenile community dynamics to detect a phase shift in the Damselfish community assuming the underlying mechanism for a reef fish phase shift is habitat-limited recruitment and to predict the impact of disturbance on this biological community.

The current Damselfish community on Casuarina Reef, one year after a major bleaching event, is an ideal reef fish community for such a degraded habitat characterized by diet and habitat generalists that are able to take advantage of the phase shift following the bleaching event. The Damselfish community may have therefore already gone through a phase-shift in response to the degraded state of the reef. Based on the data between juvenile and adult Damselfish populations, and if juveniles are to be used as a representative of the next Damselfish community, the community does not seem to be changing one year after the bleaching event.

The lack of changes between the adult and juvenile damselfish communities and abundance may lead me to conclude that, currently, any changes happening in the damselfish community is not occurring through habitat-limiting recruitment of juveniles. This highlights the need to better understand the long term effects of coral bleaching and its mechanisms on reef fish communities and understanding the future of coral reef systems in the face of global climate change.

Disciplines

Environmental Indicators and Impact Assessment | Environmental Sciences | Marine Biology | Meteorology | Oceanography | Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology

 

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