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Coral Reefs

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 461–471 | Cite as

Effects of different disturbance types on butterflyfish communities of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

  • M. J. Emslie
  • M. S. Pratchett
  • A. J. Cheal
Report

Abstract

The effects of disturbances on coral reef fishes have been extensively documented but most studies have relied on opportunistic sampling following single events. Few studies have the spatial and temporal extent to directly compare the effects of multiple disturbances over a large geographic scale. Here, benthic communities and butterflyfishes on 47 reefs of the Great Barrier Reef were surveyed annually to examine their responses to physical disturbances (cyclones and storms) and/or biological disturbances (bleaching, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and white syndrome disease). The effects on benthic and butterflyfish communities varied among reefs depending on the structure and geographical setting of each community, on the size and type of disturbance, and on the disturbance history of that reef. There was considerable variability in the response of butterflyfishes to different disturbances: physical disturbances (occurring with or without biological disturbances) produced substantial declines in abundance, whilst biological disturbances occurring on their own did not. Butterflyfishes with the narrowest feeding preferences, such as obligate corallivores, were always the species most affected. The response of generalist feeders varied with the extent of damage. Wholesale changes to the butterflyfish community were only recorded where structural complexity of reefs was drastically reduced. The observed effects of disturbances on butterflyfishes coupled with predictions of increased frequency and intensity of disturbances sound a dire warning for the future of butterflyfish communities in particular and reef fish communities in general.

Keywords

Coral reefs Disturbances Butterflyfishes Great Barrier Reef 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank the crews of the RVs Sirius, Harry Messel, Cape Ferguson and Lady Basten for support in the field and all members past and present of the AIMS long-term monitoring program who assisted with data collection. Comments from Terry Done, Nick Graham and four anonymous reviewers greatly improved earlier versions of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

338_2011_730_MOESM1_ESM.eps (5.6 mb)
Temporal trends in average hard coral cover on 47 reefs surveyed by the Long Term Monitoring Program. Error bars are 95% Confidence Intervals. Graphs are arranged down the page by latitudinal sector running from north to south: CL = Cooktown-Lizard Island, CA = Cairns, TO = Townsville, WH = Whitsunday, SW = Swains, CB = Capricorn-Bunker. Graphs are then arranged across the page to represent position across the continental shelf: inner-shelf, mid-shelf, outer-shelf. Supplementary material 1 (EPS 5709 kb)
338_2011_730_MOESM2_ESM.eps (6.1 mb)
Temporal trends in total butterflyfish abundance on 47 reefs surveyed by the Long Term Monitoring Program. Graphs are arranged down the page by latitudinal sector running from north to south: CL = Cooktown-Lizard Island, CA = Cairns, TO = Townsville, WH = Whitsunday, SW = Swains, CB = Capricorn-Bunker. Graphs are then arranged across the page to represent position across the continental shelf: inner-shelf, mid-shelf, outer-shelf. Supplementary material 2 (EPS 6274 kb)
338_2011_730_MOESM3_ESM.eps (5.6 mb)
Temporal trends in butterflyfish species richness on 47 reefs surveyed by the Long Term Monitoring Program. Graphs are arranged down the page by latitudinal sector running from north to south: CL = Cooktown-Lizard Island, CA = Cairns, TO = Townsville, WH = Whitsunday, SW = Swains, CB = Capricorn-Bunker. Graphs are then arranged across the page to represent position across the continental shelf: inner-shelf, mid-shelf, outer-shelf. Supplementary material 3 (EPS 5698 kb)
338_2011_730_MOESM4_ESM.doc (132 kb)
Supplementary material 4 (DOC 133 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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