Photo by Gregory Moine via Flickr Creative Commons
ARC's Coral Reef Studies states that over one third of coral reef fish are at risk of local extinction due to climate change impacts on the reefs. How do they know? They've come up with a predictive method using an "extinction risk index" that can help reveal species at risk and assist reef managers in protecting and managing local reefs. There are high hopes that the new predictor can help stave off possible species loss. According to ARC, "The team applied their 'extinction risk index' to determine both local and global vulnerability to climate change and human impacts. They tested the method by comparing fish populations before and after the major 1998 El Nino climate event which caused massive coral death and disruption across the Indian Ocean."
After putting the new prediction tool to work, they found that 56 out of the 134 coral fish species studied are at risk of extinction as coral reefs suffer from climate change. Smaller fish that use the corals for shelter and have specialized diets are most at risk.
Parrot Fish; Photo via ARC
The team notes though that this method predicts local extinction, not global extinction. That means the species will disappear from particular areas, but not necessarily the planet. Still, local extinction of key species can make it exceedingly difficult for reefs to recover from damage. It is just as important an issue as world-wide extinction.
"The loss of particular species can have a critical effect on the stability of an entire ecosystem - and our ability to look after coral reefs depends on being able to predict which species or groups of fish are most at risk," explains lead author Dr Nick Graham of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University. "Until now, the ability to do this has been fairly weak."
Butterfly Fish; Photo via ARC
But the new extinction predictor hopes to change that. By applying it to particular areas, the predictor could help governments and organizations understand how and where they need to protect their reefs, ensuring balance and health is maintained. Luckily, most of the coral reef fish at risk from climate change are not also at risk of extinction from overfishing, so the efforts for maintaining reefs may need to be broad, but not as intensive in a particular area.
ARC also notes, "The team adds that their novel approach to calculating extinction risk has wider application to conservation management beyond coral reef ecosystems and can readily apply to other living organisms and sources of stress."
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