Human impact increasingly alters global ecosystems, often reducing biodiversity and disrupting the provision of essential ecosystem services to humanity. Therefore, preserving ecosystem functioning is a critical challenge of the twenty-first century. Coral reefs are declining worldwide due to the pervasive effects of climate change and intensive fishing, and although research on coral reef ecosystem functioning has gained momentum, most studies rely on simplified proxies, such as fish biomass. This lack of quantitative assessments of multiple process-based ecosystem functions hinders local and regional conservation efforts. Here we combine global coral reef fish community surveys and bioenergetic models to quantify five key ecosystem functions mediated by coral reef fishes. We show that functions exhibit critical trade-offs driven by varying community structures, such that no community can maximize all functions. Furthermore, functions are locally dominated by few species, but the identity of dominant species substantially varies at the global scale. In fact, half of the 1,110 species in our dataset are functionally dominant in at least one location. Our results reinforce the need for a nuanced, locally tailored approach to coral reef conservation that considers multiple ecological functions beyond the effect of standing stock biomass.