When tropical systems lose species, they are often assumed to be buffered against declines in functional diversity by the ability of the species-rich biota to display high functional redundancy: i.e., a high number of species performing similar functions. We tested this hypothesis using a ninefold richness gradient in global fish faunas on tropical reefs encompassing 6,316 species distributed among 646 functional entities (FEs): i.e., unique combinations of functional traits. We found that the highest functional redundancy is located in the Central Indo-Pacific with a mean of 7.9 species per FE. However, this overall level of redundancy is disproportionately packed into few FEs, a pattern termed functional over-redundancy (FOR). For instance, the most speciose FE in the Central Indo-Pacific contains 222 species (out of 3,689) whereas 38% of FEs (180 out of 468) have no functional insurance with only one species. Surprisingly, the level of FOR is consistent across the six fish faunas, meaning that, whatever the richness, over a third of the species may still be in overrepresented FEs whereas more than one third of the FEs are left without insurance, these levels all being significantly higher than expected by chance. Thus, our study shows that, even in high-diversity systems, such as tropical reefs, functional diversity remains highly vulnerable to species loss. Although further investigations are needed to specifically address the influence of redundant vs. vulnerable FEs on ecosystem functioning, our results suggest that the promised benefits from tropical biodiversity may not be as strong as previously thought.
The most prominent pattern in global marine biogeography is the biodiversity peak in the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Yet the processes that underpin this pattern are still actively debated. By reconstructing global marine paleoenvironments over the past 3 million years on the basis of sediment cores, we assessed the extent to which Quaternary climate fluctuations can explain global variation in current reef fish richness. Comparing global historical coral reef habitat availability with the present-day distribution of 6316 reef fish species, we find that distance from stable coral reef habitats during historical periods of habitat loss explains 62% of the variation in fish richness, outweighing present-day environmental factors. Our results highlight the importance of habitat persistence during periods of climate change for preserving marine biodiversity.
The impact of anthropogenic activity on ecosystems has highlighted the need to move beyond the biogeographical delineation of species richness patterns to understanding the vulnerability of species assemblages, including the functional components that are linked to the processes they support. We developed a decision theory framework to quantitatively assess the global taxonomic and functional vulnerability of fish assemblages on tropical reefs using a combination of sensitivity to species loss, exposure to threats and extent of protection. Fish assemblages with high taxonomic and functional sensitivity are often exposed to threats but are largely missed by the global network of marine protected areas. We found that areas of high species richness spatially mismatch areas of high taxonomic and functional vulnerability. Nevertheless, there is strong spatial match between taxonomic and functional vulnerabilities suggesting a potential win-win conservation-ecosystem service strategy if more protection is set in these locations.
Beyond the loss of species richness, human activities may also deplete the breadth of evolutionary history (phylogenetic diversity) and the diversity of roles (functional diversity) carried out by species within communities, two overlooked components of biodiversity. Both are, however, essential to sustain ecosystem functioning and the associated provision of ecosystem services, particularly under fluctuating environmental conditions. We quantified the effect of human activities on the taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversity of fish communities in coral reefs, while teasing apart the influence of biogeography and habitat along a gradient of human pressure across the Pacific Ocean. We detected nonlinear relationships with significant breaking points in the impact of human population density on phylogenetic and functional diversity of parrotfishes, at 25 and 15 inhabitants/km(2), respectively, while parrotfish species richness decreased linearly along the same population gradient. Over the whole range, species richness decreased by 11.7%, while phylogenetic and functional diversity dropped by 35.8% and 46.6%, respectively. Our results call for caution when using species richness as a benchmark for measuring the status of ecosystems since it appears to be less responsive to variation in human population densities than its phylogenetic and functional counterparts, potentially imperiling the functioning of coral reef ecosystems.
The pygmy angelfishes (genus Centropyge, family Pomacanthidae) are brightly colored species that occupy reef habitats in every tropical ocean. Some species are rarely observed because they occur below conventional scuba depths. Their striking coloration can command thousands of U.S. dollars in the aquarium trade, and closely related species are often distinguished only by coloration. These factors have impeded phylogenetic resolution, and every phylogeographic survey to date has reported discordance between coloration, taxonomy, and genetic partitions. Here we report a phylogenetic survey of 29 of the 34 recognized species (N=94 plus 23 outgroups), based on two mtDNA and three nuclear loci, totaling 2272 bp. The resulting ML and Baysian trees are highly concordant and indicate that the genus Centropyge is paraphyletic, consistent with a previous analysis of the family Pomacanthidae. Two recognized genera (Apolemichthys and Genicanthus) nest within Centropyge, and two subgenera (Xiphypops and Paracentropyge) comprise monophyletic lineages that should be elevated to genus level. Based on an age estimate of 38 Ma for the family Pomacanthidae, Centropyge diverged from the closest extant genus Pygoplites about 33 Ma, three deep lineages within Centropyge diverged about 18-28 Ma, and four species complexes diverged 3-12 Ma. However, in 11 of 13 cases, putative species in these complexes are indistinguishable based on morphology and genetics, being defined solely by coloration. These cases indicate either emerging species or excessive taxonomic splitting based on brightly colored variants.
Interactions between fishes and the benthos have shaped the development of marine ecosystems since at least the early Mesozoic. Here, using the morphology of fish teeth as an indicator of feeding abilities, we quantify changes over the last 240 million years of reef fish evolution. Fossil and extant coral reef fish assemblages reveal exceptional stasis in tooth design over time, with one notable exception, a distinct long-toothed form. Arising only in the last 40 million years, these long-toothed fishes have bypassed the invertebrate link in the food chain, feeding directly on benthic particulate material. With the appearance of elongated teeth, these specialized detritivores have moved from eating invertebrates to eating the food of invertebrates. Over evolutionary time, fishes have slid back down the food chain.
The disparity in species richness among evolutionary lineages is one of the oldest and most intriguing issues in evolutionary biology. Although geographical factors have been traditionally thought to promote speciation, recent studies have underscored the importance of ecological interactions as one of the main drivers of diversification. Here, we test if differences in species richness of closely related lineages match predictions based on the concept of density-dependent diversification. As radiation progresses, ecological niche-space would become increasingly saturated, resulting in fewer opportunities for speciation. To assess this hypothesis, we tested whether reef fish niche shifts toward usage of low-quality food resources (i.e. relatively low energy/protein per unit mass), such as algae, detritus, sponges and corals are accompanied by rapid net diversification. Using available molecular information, we reconstructed phylogenies of four major reef fish clades (Acanthuroidei, Chaetodontidae, Labridae and Pomacentridae) to estimate the timing of radiations of their subclades. We found that the evolution of species-rich clades was associated with a switch to low quality food in three of the four clades analyzed, which is consistent with a density-dependent model of diversification. We suggest that ecological opportunity may play an important role in understanding the diversification of reef-fish lineages.
The function of species has been recognized as critical for the maintenance of ecosystems within desired states. However, there are still considerable gaps in our knowledge of interspecific differences in the functional roles of organisms, particularly with regard to the spatial scales over which functional impact is exerted. This has implications for the delivery of function and the maintenance of ecosystem processes. In this study we assessed the allometric relationship between foraging movements and fish body length at three sites, for 20 species of herbivorous reef fishes within four different functional groups: browsers, farmers, grazer/ detritivores, and scraper/excavators. The relationship between vulnerability of species to fishing and their scale of foraging was also examined. We present empirical evidence of the strong, positive, log-linear relationship between the scale of foraging movement and fish body length. This relationship was consistent among sites and between the two different movement metrics used. Phylogeny did not affect these results. Functional groups foraged over contrasting ranges of spatial scales; for example, scraper/excavators performed their role over a wide range of scales, whereas browsers were represented by few species and operated over a narrow range of scales. Overfishing is likely not only to remove species operating at large scales, but also to remove the browser group as a whole. Large fishes typically have a significant role in removing algae on reefs, and browsers are key to controlling macroalgae and reversing shifts to macroalgal-dominated states. This vulnerability to exploitation has serious consequences for the ability of fish assemblages to deliver their functional role in the face of anthropogenic impacts. However, identification of the scales at which herbivorous fish assemblages are susceptible to fishing provides managers with critical knowledge to design management strategies to support coral-dominated reefs by maintaining function at the spatial scales at which vulnerable species operate.
Around the world, the human-induced collapses of populations and species have triggered a sixth mass extinction crisis, with rare species often being the first to disappear. Although the role of species diversity in the maintenance of ecosystem processes has been widely investigated, the role of rare species remains controversial. A critical issue is whether common species insure against the loss of functions supported by rare species. This issue is even more critical in species-rich ecosystems where high functional redundancy among species is likely and where it is thus often assumed that ecosystem functioning is buffered against species loss. Here, using extensive datasets of species occurrences and functional traits from three highly diverse ecosystems (846 coral reef fishes, 2,979 alpine plants, and 662 tropical trees), we demonstrate that the most distinct combinations of traits are supported predominantly by rare species both in terms of local abundance and regional occupancy. Moreover, species that have low functional redundancy and are likely to support the most vulnerable functions, with no other species carrying similar combinations of traits, are rarer than expected by chance in all three ecosystems. For instance, 63% and 98% of fish species that are likely to support highly vulnerable functions in coral reef ecosystems are locally and regionally rare, respectively. For alpine plants, 32% and 89% of such species are locally and regionally rare, respectively. Remarkably, 47% of fish species and 55% of tropical tree species that are likely to support highly vulnerable functions have only one individual per sample on average. Our results emphasize the importance of rare species conservation, even in highly diverse ecosystems, which are thought to exhibit high functional redundancy. Rare species offer more than aesthetic, cultural, or taxonomic diversity value; they disproportionately increase the potential breadth of functions provided by ecosystems across spatial scales. As such, they are likely to insure against future uncertainty arising from climate change and the ever-increasing anthropogenic pressures on ecosystems. Our results call for a more detailed understanding of the role of rarity and functional vulnerability in ecosystem functioning.
1.Detailed knowledge of a species functional niche is crucial for the study of ecological communities and processes. The extent of niche overlap, functional redundancy and functional complementarity are of particular importance if we are to understand ecosystem processes and their vulnerability to disturbances. 2.Coral reefs are among the most threatened marine systems, and anthropogenic activity is changing the functional composition of reefs. The loss of herbivorous fishes is particularly concerning as the removal of algae is crucial for the growth and survival of corals. Yet, the foraging patterns of the various herbivorous fish species are poorly understood. 3.Using a multidimensional framework, we present novel individual-based analyses of species realized functional niches, which we apply to a herbivorous coral reef fish community. In calculating niche volumes for 21 species, based on their microhabitat utilization patterns during foraging, and computing functional overlaps, we provide a measurement of functional redundancy or complementarity. Complementarity is the inverse of redundancy and is defined as less than 50% overlap in niche volumes. 4.The analyses reveal extensive complementarity with an average functional overlap of just 15.2%. Furthermore, the analyses divide herbivorous reef fishes into two broad groups. The first group (predominantly surgeonfishes and parrotfishes) comprises species feeding on exposed surfaces and predominantly open reef matrix or sandy substrata, resulting in small niche volumes and extensive complementarity. In contrast, the second group consists of species (predominantly rabbitfishes) that feed over a wider range of microhabitats, penetrating the reef matrix to exploit concealed surfaces of various substratum types. These species show high variation among individuals, leading to large niche volumes, more overlap and less complementarity. 5.These results may have crucial consequences for our understanding of herbivorous processes on coral reefs, as algal removal appears to depend strongly on species-specific microhabitat utilization patterns of herbivores. Furthermore, the results emphasize the capacity of the individual-based analyses to reveal variation in the functional niches of species, even in high diversity systems such as coral reefs, demonstrating its potential applicability to other high-diversity ecosystems. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Delineating regions is an important first step in understanding the evolution and biogeography of faunas. However, quantitative approaches are often limited at a global scale, particularly in the marine realm. Reef fishes are the most diversified group of marine fishes, and compared to most other phyla, their taxonomy and geographical distributions are relatively well known. Based on 169 checklists spread across all tropical oceans, the present work aims to quantitatively delineate biogeographical entities for reef fishes at a global scale. Four different classifications were used to account for uncertainty related to species identification and the quality of checklists. The four classifications delivered converging results, with biogeographical entities that can be hierarchically delineated into realms, regions and provinces. All classifications indicated that the Indo-Pacific has a weak internal structure, with a high similarity from east to west. In contrast, the Atlantic and the Eastern Tropical Pacific were more strongly structured, which may be related to the higher levels of endemism in these two realms. The "Coral Triangle", an area of the Indo-Pacific which contains the highest species diversity for reef fishes, was not clearly delineated by its species composition. Our results show a global concordance with recent works based upon endemism, environmental factors, expert knowledge, or their combination. Our quantitative delineation of biogeographical entities, however, tests the robustness of the results and yields easily replicated patterns. The similarity between our results and those from other phyla, such as corals, suggests that our approach may be of broad utility in describing and understanding global marine biodiversity patterns.
Sediments are widely accepted as a threat to coral reefs but our understanding of their ecological impacts is limited. Evidence has suggested that benthic sediments bound within the epilithic algal matrix (EAM) suppress reef fish herbivory, a key ecological process maintaining reef resilience. An experimental combination of caging and sediment addition treatments were used to investigate the effects of sediment pulses on herbivory and EAMs and to determine whether sediment addition could trigger a positive-feedback loop, leading to deep, sediment-rich turfs. A 1-week pulsed sediment addition resulted in rapid increases in algal turf length with effects comparable to those seen in herbivore exclusion cages. Contrary to the hypothesised positive-feedback mechanism, benthic sediment loads returned to natural levels within 3 weeks, however, the EAM turfs remained almost 60% longer for at least 3 months. While reduced herbivore density is widely understood to be a major threat to reefs, we show that acute disturbances to reef sediments elicit similar ecological responses in the EAM. With reefs increasingly threatened by both reductions in herbivore biomass and altered sediment fluxes, the development of longer turfs may become more common on coral reefs.
The marine tropics contain five major biogeographic regions (East Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Indo-Australian Archipelago (IAA) and Central Pacific). These regions are separated by both hard and soft barriers. Reconstructing ancestral vicariance, we evaluate the extent of temporal concordance in vicariance events across three major barriers (Terminal Tethyan Event (TTE), Isthmus of Panama (IOP), East Pacific Barrier, EPB) and two incomplete barriers (either side of the IAA) for the Labridae, Pomacentridae and Chaetodontidae. We found a marked lack of temporal congruence within and among the three fish families in vicariance events associated with the EPB, TTE and IOP. Vicariance across hard barriers separating the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific (TTE, IOP) is temporally diffuse, with many vicariance events preceding barrier formation. In marked contrast, soft barriers either side of the IAA hotspot support tightly concordant vicariance events (2.5 Myr on Indian Ocean side; 6 Myr on Central Pacific side). Temporal concordance in vicariance points to large-scale temporally restricted gene flow during the Late Miocene and Pliocene. Despite different and often complex histories, both hard and soft barriers have comparably strong effects on the evolution of coral reef taxa.
Around the globe, coral reefs and other marine ecosystems are increasingly overfished. Conventionally, studies of fishing impacts have focused on the population size and dynamics of targeted stocks rather than the broader ecosystem-wide effects of harvesting. Using parrotfishes as an example, we show how coral reef fish populations respond to escalating fishing pressure across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Based on these fish abundance data, we infer the potential impact on four key functional roles performed by parrotfishes. Rates of bioerosion and coral predation are highly sensitive to human activity, whereas grazing and sediment removal are resilient to fishing. Our results offer new insights into the vulnerability and resilience of coral reefs to the ever-growing human footprint. The depletion of fishes causes differential decline of key ecosystem functions, radically changing the dynamics of coral reefs and setting the stage for future ecological surprises.
Canopies are common among autotrophs, increasing their access to light and thereby increasing competitive abilities. If viewed from above canopies may conceal objects beneath them creating a canopy effect. Due to complexities in collecting 3-dimensional data, most ecosystem monitoring programmes reduce dimensionality when sampling, resorting to planar views. The resultant canopy effects may bias data interpretation, particularly following disturbances. Canopy effects are especially relevant on coral reefs where coral cover is often used to evaluate and communicate ecosystem health. We show that canopies hide benthic components including massive corals and algal turfs, and as planar views are almost ubiquitously used to monitor disturbances, the loss of vulnerable canopy-forming corals may bias findings by presenting pre-existing benthic components as an altered system. Our reliance on planar views in monitoring ecosystems, especially coral cover on reefs, needs to be reassessed if we are to better understand the ecological consequences of ever more frequent disturbances.
We examined how peripherally isolated endemic species may have contributed to the biodiversity of the Indo-Australian Archipelago biodiversity hotspot by reconstructing the evolutionary history of the wrasse genus Anampses. We identified three alternate models of diversification: the vicariance-based successive division model, and the dispersal-based successive colonisation and peripheral budding models. The genus was well suited for this study given its relatively high proportion (42%) of endemic species, its reasonably low diversity (12 species), which permitted complete taxon sampling, and its widespread tropical Indo-Pacific distribution. Monophyly of the genus was strongly supported by three phylogenetic analyses: maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood, and Bayesian inference based on mitochondrial CO1 and 12S rRNA and nuclear S7 sequences. Estimates of species divergence times from fossil-calibrated Bayesian inference suggest that Anampses arose in the mid-Eocene and subsequently diversified throughout the Miocene. Evolutionary relationships within the genus, combined with limited spatial and temporal concordance among endemics, offer support for all three alternate models of diversification. Our findings emphasise the importance of peripherally isolated locations in creating and maintaining endemic species and their contribution to the biodiversity of the Indo-Australian Archipelago.
The use of biting to obtain food items attached to the substratum is an ecologically widespread and important mode of feeding among aquatic vertebrates, which rarely has been studied. We did the first evolutionary analyses of morphology and motion kinematics of the feeding apparatus in Indo-Pacific members of an iconic family of biters, the marine angelfishes (f. Pomacanthidae). We found clear interspecific differences in gut morphology that clearly reflected a wide range of trophic niches. In contrast, feeding apparatus morphology appeared to be conserved. A few unusual structural innovations enabled angelfishes to protrude their jaws, close them in the protruded state, and tear food items from the substratum at a high velocity. Only one clade, the speciose pygmy angelfishes, showed functional departure from the generalized and clade-defining grab-and-tearing feeding pattern. By comparing the feeding kinematics of angelfishes with wrasses and parrotfishes (f. Labridae) we showed that grab-and-tearing is based on low kinematics disparity. Regardless of its restricted disparity, the grab-and-tearing feeding apparatus has enabled angelfishes to negotiate ecological thresholds: Given their widely different body sizes, angelfishes can access many structurally complex benthic surfaces that other biters likely are unable to exploit. From these surfaces, angelfishes can dislodge sturdy food items from their tough attachments. Angelfishes thus provide an intriguing example of a successful group that appears to have evolved considerable trophic diversity based on an unusual yet conserved feeding apparatus configuration that is characterized by limited functional disparity.
Diver-based Underwater Visual Censuses (UVCs), particularly transect-based surveys, are key tools in the study of coral reef fish ecology. These techniques, however, have inherent problems that make it difficult to collect accurate numerical data. One of these problems is the diver effect (defined as the reaction of fish to a diver). Although widely recognised, its effects have yet to be quantified and the extent of taxonomic variation remains to be determined. We therefore examined relative diver effects on a reef fish assemblage on the Great Barrier Reef. Using common UVC methods, the recorded abundance of seven reef fish groups were significantly affected by the ongoing presence of SCUBA divers. Overall, the diver effect resulted in a 52% decrease in the mean number of individuals recorded, with declines of up to 70% in individual families. Although the diver effect appears to be a significant problem, UVCs remain a useful approach for quantifying spatial and temporal variation in relative fish abundances, especially if using methods that minimise the exposure of fishes to divers. Fixed distance transects using tapes or lines deployed by a second diver (or GPS-calibrated timed swims) would appear to maximise fish counts and minimise diver effects.
Coral reefs globally are in decline, with some reefs undergoing phase shifts from coral-dominance to degraded states dominated by large fleshy macroalgae. These shifts have been underpinned by the overharvesting of herbivorous fishes and represent a fundamental change in the physical structure of these reefs. Although the physical structure provided by corals is regarded as a key feature that facilitates herbivore activity, the influence of the physical structure of macroalgal stands is largely unknown. Using transplanted Sargassum, the largest coral reef macroalga, we created habitat patches of predetermined macroalgal density (0.25-6.23 kg m(-2)). Remote video cameras revealed both grazing and browsing fishes avoided high density patches, preferring relatively open areas with low macroalgal cover. This behaviour may provide a positive feedback leading to the growth and persistence of macroalgal stands; increasing the stability of phase shifts to macroalgae.
The association between diversification and evolutionary innovations has been well documented and tested in studies of taxonomic richness but the impact that such innovations have on the diversity of form and function is less well understood. Using phylogenetically rigorous techniques, we investigated the association between morphological diversity and two design breakthroughs within the jaws of parrotfish. Similar intramandibular joints and other modifications of the pharyngeal jaws have evolved repeatedly in teleost fish and are frequently hypothesized to promote diversity. We quantified morphological diversity within six functionally important oral jaw traits using the Brownian motion rate of evolution to correct for phylogenetic and time-related biases and compared these rates across clades that did and did not possess the intramandibular joint and the parrotfish pharyngeal jaw. No change in morphological diversity was associated with the pharyngeal jaw modification alone but rates of oral jaw diversification were up to 8× faster in parrotfish species that possessed both innovations. Interestingly, this morphological diversity may not have led to differential resource uses as available data suggest that members of this clade show remarkable homogeneity of diet.
The angelfish genus Holacanthus includes seven species in the tropical Eastern Pacific and Atlantic. In this study we performed an analysis on all species, the closely related regal angelfish, and the Cortez angelfish, using four mitochondrial and one nuclear marker. Our results support a monophyletic Holacanthus. The Indo-Pacific regal angelfish, Pygoplytes diacanthus, was found to be the closest relative to Holacanthus. We found a split into two clades with divergences that were consistent with the rise of the Isthmus of Panama. An internally calibrated molecular clock thus placed the origin of Holacanthus to approximately 10.2-7.6 million years ago.
Patterns in the commonness and rarity of species are a fundamental characteristic of ecological assemblages; however, testing between alternative models for such patterns remains an important challenge. Conventional approaches to fitting or testing species abundance models often assume that species, not individuals, are the units that are sampled and that species abundances are independent of one another. Here we test three different models (the Poisson lognormal, the negative binomial, and the neutral, "zero-sum multinomial" [ZSM]) against species abundance distributions of Indo-Pacific corals and reef fishes. We derive and apply several alternative bootstrap analyses of model fit, each of which makes different assumptions about how species abundance data are sampled, and we assess the extent to which tests of model fit are sensitive to such assumptions. For all models, goodness of fit is remarkably consistent, regardless of whether one assumes that species or individuals are the units that are sampled or whether or not one assumes that species abundances are statistically independent of one another. However, goodness-of-fit estimates are approximately twice as precise and detect lack of model fit more frequently, when based on sampling of individuals, rather than species. Bootstrap analyses indicate that the Poisson lognormal distribution exhibits substantially better fit to species abundance patterns, consistent with model selection analyses. In particular, heterogeneity in species abundances (many rare and few highly abundant species) is too great to be captured by the ZSM model or the negative binomial model and is best explained by models that predict species abundance patterns that are much closer, but not identical, to the lognormal distribution. More broadly, our bootstrap analyses suggest that estimates of model fit are likely to be robust to assumptions about the statistical interdependence of species abundances, but that tests of model fit are more powerful when they assume sampling of individuals, rather than species. Such individual-based tests therefore may be able to identify lack of model fit where previous tests have been inconclusive.
We estimated ages of divergence between major labrid tribes and the timing of the evolution of trophic novelty. Sequence data for 101 labrid taxa and 14 outgroups consisting of two mitochondrial gene regions (12s, 16s), and two nuclear protein-coding genes (RAG2, TMO4c4), a combined 2567 bp of sequence, were examined using novel maximum likelihood, maximum parsimony and mixed model Bayesian inference methods. These analyses yielded well supported trees consistent with published phylogenies. Bayesian inference using five fossil calibration points estimated the minimum ages of lineages. With origins in the late Cretaceous to early tertiary, the family diversified quickly with both major lineages (hypsigenyine and julidine) present at approximately 62.7 Ma, shortly after the K/T boundary. All lineages leading to major tribes were in place by the beginning of the Miocene (23 Ma) with most diversification in extant lineages occurring within the Miocene. Optimisation of trophic information onto the chronogram revealed multiple origins of novel feeding modes with two distinct periods of innovation. The Palaeocene/Eocene saw the origins of feeding modes that are well represented in other families: gastropod feeders, piscivores and browsing herbivores. A wave of innovation in the Oligocene/Miocene resulted in specialized feeding modes, rarely seen in other groups: coral feeding, foraminifera feeding and fish cleaning. There is little evidence of a general relationship between trophic specialization and species diversity. The current trophic diversity of the Labridae is a result of the accumulation of feeding modes dating back to the K/T boundary at 65 Ma, with all major feeding modes on present day reefs already in place 7.5 million years ago.
Understanding the processes shaping biological communities under multiple disturbances is a core challenge in ecology and conservation science. Traditionally, ecologists have explored linkages between the severity and type of disturbance and the taxonomic structure of communities. Recent advances in the application of species traits, to assess the functional structure of communities, have provided an alternative approach that responds rapidly and consistently across taxa and ecosystems to multiple disturbances. Importantly, trait-based metrics may provide advanced warning of disturbance to ecosystems because they do not need species loss to be reactive. Here, we synthesize empirical evidence and present a theoretical framework, based on species positions in a functional space, as a tool to reveal the complex nature of change in disturbed ecosystems.
Sediments are a ubiquitous feature of all coral reefs, yet our understanding of how they affect complex ecological processes on coral reefs is limited. Sediment in algal turfs has been shown to suppress herbivory by coral reef fishes on high-sediment, low-herbivory reef flats. Here, we investigate the role of sediment in suppressing herbivory across a depth gradient (reef base, crest and flat) by observing fish feeding following benthic sediment reductions. We found that sediment suppresses herbivory across all reef zones. Even slight reductions on the reef crest, which has 35 times less sediment than the reef flat, resulted in over 1800 more herbivore bites (h(-1) m(-2)). The Acanthuridae (surgeonfishes) were responsible for over 80 per cent of all bites observed, and on the reef crest and flat took over 1500 more bites (h(-1) m(-2)) when sediment load was reduced. These findings highlight the role of natural sediment loads in shaping coral reef herbivory and suggest that changes in benthic sediment loads could directly impair reef resilience.
Despite high diversity and abundance of nominally herbivorous fishes on coral reefs, recent studies indicate that only a small subset of taxa are capable of removing dominant macroalgae once these become established. This limited functional redundancy highlights the potential vulnerability of coral reefs to disturbance and stresses the need to assess the functional role of individual species of herbivores. However, our knowledge of species-specific patterns in macroalgal consumption is limited geographically, and there is a need to determine the extent to which patterns observed in specific reefs can be generalised at larger spatial scales. In this study, video cameras were used to quantify rates of macroalgae consumption by fishes in two coral reefs located at a similar latitude in opposite sides of Australia: the Keppel Islands in the Great Barrier Reef (eastern coast) and Ningaloo Reef (western coast). The community of nominally herbivorous fish was also characterised in both systems to determine whether potential differences in the species observed feeding on macroalgae were related to spatial dissimilarities in herbivore community composition. The total number of species observed biting on the dominant brown alga Sargassum myriocystum differed dramatically among the two systems, with 23 species feeding in Ningaloo, compared with just 8 in the Keppel Islands. Strong differences were also found in the species composition and total biomass of nominally herbivorous fish, which was an order of magnitude higher in Ningaloo. However, despite such marked differences in the diversity, biomass, and community composition of resident herbivorous fishes, Sargassum consumption was dominated by only four species in both systems, with Naso unicornis and Kyphosus vaigiensis consistently emerging as dominant feeders of macroalgae.
Classifying the biological traits of organisms can test conceptual frameworks of life-history strategies and allow for predictions of how different species may respond to environmental disturbances. We apply a trait-based classification approach to a complex and threatened group of species, scleractinian corals. Using hierarchical clustering and random forests analyses, we identify up to four life-history strategies that appear globally consistent across 143 species of reef corals: competitive, weedy, stress-tolerant and generalist taxa, which are primarily separated by colony morphology, growth rate and reproductive mode. Documented shifts towards stress-tolerant, generalist and weedy species in coral reef communities are consistent with the expected responses of these life-history strategies. Our quantitative trait-based approach to classifying life-history strategies is objective, applicable to any taxa and a powerful tool that can be used to evaluate theories of community ecology and predict the impact of environmental and anthropogenic stressors on species assemblages.
The evolutionary dissimilarity between communities (phylogenetic beta diversity PBD) has been increasingly explored by ecologists and biogeographers to assess the relative roles of ecological and evolutionary processes in structuring natural communities. Among PBD measures, the PhyloSor and UniFrac indices have been widely used to assess the level of turnover of lineages over geographical and environmental gradients. However, these indices can be considered as broad-sense measures of phylogenetic turnover as they incorporate different aspects of differences in evolutionary history between communities that may be attributable to phylogenetic diversity gradients. In the present study, we extend an additive partitioning framework proposed for compositional beta diversity to PBD. Specifically, we decomposed the PhyloSor and UniFrac indices into two separate components accounting for true phylogenetic turnover and phylogenetic diversity gradients, respectively. We illustrated the relevance of this framework using simple theoretical and archetypal examples, as well as an empirical study based on coral reef fish communities. Overall, our results suggest that using PhyloSor and UniFrac may greatly over-estimate the level of spatial turnover of lineages if the two compared communities show contrasting levels of phylogenetic diversity. We therefore recommend that future studies use the true phylogenetic turnover component of these indices when the studied communities encompass a large phylogenetic diversity gradient.
Accumulative disturbances can erode a coral reefs resilience, often leading to replacement of scleractinian corals by macroalgae or other non-coral organisms. These degraded reef systems have been mostly described based on changes in the composition of the reef benthos, and there is little understanding of how such changes are influenced by, and in turn influence, other components of the reef ecosystem. This study investigated the spatial variation in benthic communities on fringing reefs around the inner Seychelles islands. Specifically, relationships between benthic composition and the underlying substrata, as well as the associated fish assemblages were assessed. High variability in benthic composition was found among reefs, with a gradient from high coral cover (up to 58%) and high structural complexity to high macroalgae cover (up to 95%) and low structural complexity at the extremes. This gradient was associated with declining species richness of fishes, reduced diversity of fish functional groups, and lower abundance of corallivorous fishes. There were no reciprocal increases in herbivorous fish abundances, and relationships with other fish functional groups and total fish abundance were weak. Reefs grouping at the extremes of complex coral habitats or low-complexity macroalgal habitats displayed markedly different fish communities, with only two species of benthic invertebrate feeding fishes in greater abundance in the macroalgal habitat. These results have negative implications for the continuation of many coral reef ecosystem processes and services if more reefs shift to extreme degraded conditions dominated by macroalgae.
Herbivory is widely accepted as a vital function on coral reefs. To date, the majority of studies examining herbivory in coral reef environments have focused on the roles of fishes and/or urchins, with relatively few studies considering the potential role of macroherbivores in reef processes. Here, we introduce evidence that highlights the potential role of marine turtles as herbivores on coral reefs. While conducting experimental habitat manipulations to assess the roles of herbivorous reef fishes we observed green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) showing responses that were remarkably similar to those of herbivorous fishes. Reducing the sediment load of the epilithic algal matrix on a coral reef resulted in a forty-fold increase in grazing by green turtles. Hawksbill turtles were also observed to browse transplanted thalli of the macroalga Sargassum swartzii in a coral reef environment. These responses not only show strong parallels to herbivorous reef fishes, but also highlight that marine turtles actively, and intentionally, remove algae from coral reefs. When considering the size and potential historical abundance of marine turtles we suggest that these potentially valuable herbivores may have been lost from many coral reefs before their true importance was understood.
The dynamic nature of coral reefs offers a rare opportunity to examine the response of ecosystems to disruption due to climate change. In 1998, the Great Barrier Reef experienced widespread coral bleaching and mortality. As a result, cryptobenthic fish assemblages underwent a dramatic phase-shift. Thirteen years, and up to 96 fish generations later, the cryptobenthic fish assemblage has not returned to its pre-bleach configuration. This is despite coral abundances returning to, or exceeding, pre-bleach values. The post-bleach fish assemblage exhibits no evidence of recovery. If these short-lived fish species are a model for their longer-lived counterparts, they suggest that (1) the full effects of the 1998 bleaching event on long-lived fish populations have yet to be seen, (2) it may take decades, or more, before recovery or regeneration of these long-lived species will begin, and (3) fish assemblages may not recover to their previous composition despite the return of corals.
Although a few pelagic species exhibit regional endothermy, most fish are regarded as ectotherms. However, we document significant regional endothermy in a benthic reef fish. Individual steephead parrotfish, Chlorurus microrhinos (Labridae, formerly Scaridae) were tagged and their internal temperatures were monitored for a 24 h period using active acoustic telemetry. At night, on the reef, C. microrhinos were found to maintain a consistent average peritoneal cavity temperature 0.16 ± 0.005 °C (SE) warmer than ambient. Diurnal internal temperatures were highly variable for individuals monitored on the reef, while in tank-based trials, peritoneal cavity temperatures tracked environmental temperatures. The mechanisms responsible for a departure of the peritoneal cavity temperature from environmental temperature occurred in C. microrhinos are not yet understood. However, the diet and behavior of the species suggests that heat in the peritoneal cavity may result primarily from endogenous thermogenesis coupled with physiological heat retention mechanisms. The presence of limited endothermy in C. microrhinos indicates that a degree of uncertainty may exist in the manner that reef fish respond to their thermal environment. At the very least, they do not always appear to respond to environmental temperatures as neutral thermal vessels and do display limited, but significant, visceral warming.
Functionally coupled biomechanical systems are widespread in nature and are viewed as major constraints on evolutionary diversification, yet there have been few attempts to explore the implications of performing multiple functions within a single anatomical structure. Paternally mouthbrooding cardinalfishes present an ideal system to investigate the constraints of functional coupling as the oral jaws of male fishes are directly responsible for both feeding and reproductive functions. To test the effects of (i) mouthbrooding on feeding and (ii) feeding on reproductive potential we compared the feeding apparatus between sexes of nine species of cardinalfish and compared brood characteristics among species from different trophic groups, respectively. Mouthbrooding was strongly associated with the morphology of the feeding apparatus in males. Male cardinalfishes possessed longer heads, snouts and jaws than female conspecifics irrespective of body size, trophic group or evolutionary history. Conversely, reproductive potential also appeared to be related to trophic morphology. Piscivorous cardinalfishes produced larger, but fewer eggs, and had smaller brood volumes than species from the two invertebrate feeding groups. These interrelationships suggest that feeding and reproduction in the mouth of cardinalfishes may be tightly coupled. If so this may, in part, have contributed to the limited morphological diversification exhibited by cardinalfishes.
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