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Sep 22, 2022
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Reef fish populations are changing under the influence of rising temperatures

Reef fish populations are changing under the influence of rising temperatures

Shallow reefs and the diverse creatures that inhabit them are changing as ocean temperatures rise. Australian researchers have been tracking these changes for more than a decade. Their results show how warming waters affect tropical and temperate reef fish communities differently.

“Reefs provide a lot of benefits to people: food, livelihood, recreation, physical protection from storms and, dare I say, even happiness and inspiration. “We specifically considered fish that live on reefs, as they are important for many of these aspects, as well help maintain the natural ecological function of reefs,” said study lead author Rick Stewart-Smith, a marine ecologist at the University of Tasmania.

The Reef Life Survey was created by the authors to collect data to better understand how the Australian reefs are changing. For this study, survey data was combined with two reef monitoring programs, some of the longest running in the world.

“The combination of these data sets provided a more complete picture of what is happening on the reefs than could be imagined for any other continent,” said Stewart-Smith.

Research teams have studied impacts such as habitat change, coral bleaching and temperature changes and found that impacts vary by habitat. Temperate and subtropical reef fish showed signs of temperature change, while tropical reef fish were more affected by habitat change.

The experts also looked at how the loss of coral and kelp led to less unique fish populations. In the northeast of Australia, signs of habitat degradation have been found, leading to the introduction of generalist species in fish populations, rather than habitat-adapted niche species.

The research team looks forward to more coordinated local surveys to assess global trends.

“Climate change is clearly having a huge impact on marine biodiversity, and the changes we’ve observed around the Australian continent on short time scales indicate that much more significant changes are likely to occur over the next half century as the ocean warms,” ​​the researchers wrote.

The study was published by Cell Press in the journal Current Biology.

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