Gimme shelter. That's what fish need, in part, when it comes to coping with climate change. These pics, from scientists in Australia, show what type of habitat that large reef fish prefer ... and depend on to survive. They come from an underwater camera installed by researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.
The research, on the preferences of sweetlips, coral trout, and snappers, found that the big fish prefer to take shelter under large, flat table corals, as opposed to branching or massive corals. The study looked at 17 locations around Lizard Island on the northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland.
“The importance of this finding is that table corals are among the types most vulnerable to climate change,” says Professor David Bellwood, who worked on the study with PhD student James Kerry. “In shallow waters and on the tops of reefs, they are often the main source of cover for these big fish.
“If they die back as a result of bleaching or disease, or are destroyed by storm surges, this would strip the reef of one of its main attractions, from a coral trout’s viewpoint.”
Kerry, by the way, took the photos shown above, of a sweetlips, and below, of a coral trout.
So what? Kerry says the findings show how important table corals are to the overall structure of the reef. The fish likely use the corals not only for shade, but to hide from predators, or wait for prey.
Paint It Black
The researchers say their findings also show that shelter is more important than just coral to big fish. Bellwood and Kerry used artificial shelters made from plastic in a lagoon.
“We made one sort with no roof, one with a translucent roof and one with a roof painted black," Kerry says. "Far and away the fish preferred to shelter under the black roof, which suggests they either want to hide or else to avoid direct sunlight."
The Great Barrier Reef is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as Jaymi has reported.
The Bellwood/Kery paper, “The effect of coral morphology on shelter selection by coral reef fishes”, has been published in the journal Coral Reefs.
The Centre of Excellence is hosting a Coral Reef Symposium later this year.