Latest Scientific Papers:
Species’ thermal ranges predict changes in reef fish community structure during 8 years of extreme temperature variation.
Diversity and Distributions (2018)
Reef fish community structure can change very quickly when exposed to extreme thermal anomalies, in directions predicted from the realized thermal niche of the species present. Such predictions can thus identify species that will be most responsive to changing ocean climate. Continued warming, coupled with periodic extreme heat events, may lead to the loss of ecosystem services and ecological functions, as mobile species relocate to more hospitable climes, while less mobile species may head towards extinction
Aim: To assess whether observed thermal bounds in species’ latitudinal ranges (i.e.,
realized thermal niches) can be used to predict patterns of occurrence and abundance changes observed during a marine heatwave, relative to other important life history and functional traits.
Location: Rottnest Island, Western Australia.
Methods: A time series of standardized quantitative surveys of reef fishes spanning 8 years of pronounced ocean temperature change is used to test whether accurate predictions on shifts in species occupancy and abundance are possible using species traits.
Results: Species-level responses in occurrence and abundance were closely related to the mid-point of their realized thermal niche, more so than body size, range size or trophic level. Most of the species that disappeared from survey counts during the heatwave were characterized by geographic ranges that did not extend to latitudes with temperatures equivalent to the ocean temperature peak during the heatwave. We thus find support for the hypothesis that current distribution limits are set directly or indirectly by temperature and are highly responsive to ocean temperature variability.
Main conclusions: Our study shows that reef fish community structure can change very quickly when exposed to extreme thermal anomalies, in directions predicted from the realized thermal niche of the species present. Such predictions can thus identify species that will be most responsive to changing ocean climate. Continued warming, coupled with periodic extreme heat events, may lead to the loss of ecosystem services and ecological functions, as mobile species relocate to more hospitable climes, while less mobile species may head towards extinction.
Marine Pollution Bulletin (2018)
Uses RLS fish, invertebrate and photoquadrat data from south eastern Australia to determine the most sensitive reef community indicators of pollution as measured directly at each reef site.
• Concentrations of major pollutants were quantified for 42 Australian reefs.
• Heavy metals and nutrient enrichment appeared most pervasive for reef life.
• Polluted reef assemblages were impoverished and showed reduced ecological function.
• Pollution collapses reef assemblages from long and complicated to short and simple.
Pollution increasingly impacts healthy functioning of marine ecosystems globally. Here we quantify concentrations of major pollutant types (heavy metals/sewage/petrochemicals/plastics) as accumulated within marine sediments on and/or immediately adjacent to shallow reefs for 42 sites spanning coastal population centres across south-eastern Australia. Gradients in pollutants were revealed, but few pollutants co-varied, while increasing wave exposure ostensibly diluted concentrations of all pollutants except microplastics. Examination of reef biodiversity indicators revealed that maximum size of fauna and flora, a key life-history parameter summarised by the Community shortness index, plus declining functional and species richness, were the most sensitive bioindicators of pollutants – for which heavy metals and nutrient-enrichment were most pervasive. Results indicate that assemblages of biogenic habitat formers and associated fauna collapse from “long and complicated” to “short and simplified” configurations in response to increasing pollution, and this community signature may form an effective bioindicator to track human-driven degradation.
Marine Ecology Progress Series (2018)
Predictions of the diet of individual fishes based on their size and family show that the overall consumption by whole fish communities inside marine protected areas (MPAs) differs considerably to predictions for communities outside. The results highlight that sites surveyed by RLS divers in MPAs in SE Australia have a fish community predicted to consume substantially more sponges and small fishes (due to more big fishes and different species recovering in the MPAs).
Global Ecology and Biogeography (2017)
Uses RLS photoquadrat data from around Australia to identify patterns of different reef habitats (e.g. urchin barrens, turfing algae) and how they are influenced by environmental factors.
Nature Ecology & Evolution (2017)
The vast amount of RLS data on reef species’ distributions shows the clear effect of temperature in limiting the range edges of species, and suggest potential limits to thermal adaptation.
Science Advances (2017)
The decline in species richness from the equator to the poles depends on the scale of observation and the local abundance of species. The RLS data on fishes and invertebrates allowed these influences to be assessed globally for the first time, providing new insights into ecological contributions to the latitudinal diversity gradient.
PloS ONE (2017)
Reef Life Survey data are used to show complex but consistent responses to protection from fishing in well-enforced temperate New Zealand marine reserves.
Assessing National Biodiversity Trends for Rocky and Coral Reefs through the Integration of Citizen Science and Scientific Monitoring Programs
RLS provides a valuable template for improving national-scale marine biodiversity reporting, revealing where marine heatwaves, fishing and invasive species are having greatest effects on reef communities around Australia over the last decade.
New opportunities for conservation of handfishes (Family Brachionichthyidae) and other inconspicuous and threatened marine species through citizen science
Biological Conservation (2016)
The RLS survey program is a model for how skilled citizen scientists can enhance survey efforts of cryptic marine organisms, such as handfishes.
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology (2016)
Ground-truthing dietary model predictions using stomach contents of Australian fish species.
The most sensitive coral reef fish species are identified along with their thresholds for human and climate stressors.
New Approaches to Marine Conservation Through the Scaling Up of Ecological Data
Annual Review of Marine Science (2016)
Advances in statistical analysis and the systematic collection compilation of global marine data aid in the progress of improving conservation outcomes.
Learning from ‘outliers’ – What are some of the common elements in marine management and local culture that are associated with places where reef fish biomass is much greater or much worse than we might expect?
More species = more fish biomass produced. Well-known from experiments, but RLS field data from around the world prove that biodiversity is critical to support fish production. Also, having more species even helps maintain fish production under ocean warming and increasing temperature extremes.
Nature (2015) The distribution (geographical range) of fish and invertebrate species on reefs around the world informs us of where the majority of species are already living close to their upper temperature limits, or where most species could actually thrive with further warming.
PLoS One (2015) A global comparison of fish feeding groups inside and outside MPAs shows that it is not just the predators (higher trophic levels) that have been overfished – but fishing has affected the larger members of all groups.
A standardised vocabulary for identifying benthic biota and substrata from underwater imagery: the CATAMI Classification Scheme.
PLoS ONE (2015) The description of a new standard set of categories for scoring the cover of seaweeds and corals in photoquadrats (and video).
Ecology Letters (2015) Common characteristics of fish and invertebrate species that are extending further south with warming waters.
Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015)
Photoquadrat data show increased cover of fast-growing, opportunistic algae on reefs closer to Atlantic Salmon farms in Tasmania.
Intensive fish culture in open sea pens delivers large amounts of nutrients to coastal environments. Relative to particulate waste impacts, the ecological impacts of dissolved wastes are poorly known despite their potential to substantially affect nutrient-assimilating components of surrounding ecosystems. Broad-scale enrichment effects of salmonid farms on Tasmanian reef communities were assessed by comparing macroalgal cover at four fixed distances from active fish farm leases across 44 sites. Macroalgal assemblages differed significantly between sites immediately adjacent (100 m) to fish farms and reference sites at 5 km distance, while sites at 400 m and 1 km exhibited intermediate characteristics. Epiphyte cover varied consistently with fish farm impacts in both sheltered and exposed locations. The green algae Chaetomorpha spp. predominated near fish farms at swell-exposed sites, whereas filamentous green algae showed elevated densities near sheltered farms. Cover of canopy-forming perennial algae appeared unaffected by fish farm impacts.
Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015)
RLS surveys around major cities show trends in marine life related to major pollution sources, and numerous introduced species in Hobart.
Diversity and Distributions (2015)
A combination of RLS surveys and baited video undertaken by NSW marine parks staff show some responses of fish life to MPA protection evident in some younger MPAs
Diversity and Distributions 21:13-22 (2014)
New statistical approaches to help identify shifts in the range edges of species.
The redistribution of species with climate change is well documented.
Even so, the relative contribution of species detectability to the variation in
measured range shift rates among species is poorly understood. How can true
range shifts be discerned from sampling artefacts? Location Australia.
We simulate range shifts for species which differ in their abundance for comparison to patterns derived from empirical range shift data from two regional-scale (100s km) empirical studies. We demonstrate the use of spatial occupancy data in a distance-to-edge (DTE) model to assess changes in geographical range edges of fish species within a temperate reef fish community.
Simulations identified how sampling design can produce relatively larger error in range shift estimates in less abundant species, patterns that correspond with those observed in real data. Application of the DTE model allowed us to estimate the location of the true range edge with high accuracy in common species. In addition, upper confidence bounds for range edge estimates identified species with range edges that have likely shifted in location.
Simulation and modelling approaches used to quantify the level of confidence that can be placed in observed range shifts are particularly valuable for studies of marine species, where observations are typically few and patchy. Given the observed variability in range shift estimates, the inclusion of confidence bounds on estimates of geographical range edges will advance our capacity to disentangle true distributional change from artefacts of sampling design.
Climate warming, extreme value statistics, range edge estimation, sampling methodology.
Scientific Data 1: 140007 (2014)
Describes the Method 1 fish data in the RLS database, including collection methods and utility.
Nature 506: 216-220 (2014)
Identifies the design and management factors common among the most effective MPAs in the world.
Biological Conservation 173: 144-154 (2014) Provides guidance on statistical methods for analyzing large scale datasets, including the RLS data
Nature Climate Change 4: 62-67 (2014) Demonstrates that more in-tact fish communities in an effective MPA can help resist colonization by new warmer water species.
Nature 501: 539-542 (2013) Adds an additional layer to understanding of the world’s fish diversity, showing patterns in abundance and characteristics of species that differ from patterns in species richness.
Global human footprint on the linkage between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in reef fishes.
PLoS Biology 9: e1000606 (2011) Explores the relationships between the number of species and the total biomass of reef fishes.
Research challenges to improve the management and conservation of subtropical reefs to tackle climate change threats.
Ecological Management and Restoration 12:e7 -e10 (2011) A summary from a workshop of scientists and managers who work with reef communities in dynamic subtropical zones
Exploited reefs protected from fishing transform over decades into conservation features otherwise absent from seascapes
Ecological Applications 19: 1967-1974 (2009) Fish biomass recovery in MPAs of different ages demonstrates the long timeframes needed for fish communities to return to a more natural state.
Ecological effects of marine protected areas on rocky reef communities: a continental-scale analysis
Marine Ecology Press Series 388: 51-62 (2009) The first analysis of RLS data, including comparison of data quality from trainees vs scientists