Mean Reef Fish Body Size Decreases Towards Warmer Waters


Aquatic ectotherms often attain smaller body sizes at higher temperatures. By analysing ~15,000 coastal- reef fish surveys across a 15°C spatial sea surface temperature (SST) gradient, we found that the mean length of fish in communities decreased by ~5% for each 1°C temperature increase across space, or 50% decrease in mean length from 14 to 29°C mean annual SST. Community mean body size change was driven by differential temperature responses within trophic groups and temperature-driven change in their relative abundance. Herbivores, invertivores and planktivores became smaller on average in warmer temperatures, but no trend was found in piscivores. Nearly 25% of the temperature- related community mean size trend was attributable to trophic composition at the warmest sites, but at colder temperatures, this was <1% due to trophic groups being similarly sized. Our findings suggest that small changes in temperature are associated with large changes in fish community composition and body sizes, with important ecological implications.

Publication type

Journal Article


Coghlan, A.R., Blanchard, J.L., Wotherspoon, S., Stuart-Smith, R.D., Edgar, G.J., Barrett, N., & Audzijonyte, A.




Ecology Letters





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