Differences in demographic traits of four butterflyfish species between two reefs of the Great Barrier Reef separated by 1,200 km

Abstract

Many species demonstrate variation in life history attributes in response to gradients in environmental conditions. For fishes, major drivers of life history variation are changes in temperature and food availability. This study examined large-scale variation in the demography of four species of butterflyfishes (Chaetodon citrinellus, Chaetodon lunulatus, Chaetodon melannotus, and Chaetodon trifascialis) between two locations on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (Lizard Island and One Tree Island, separated by approximately 1,200 km). Variation in age-based demographic parameters was assessed using the re-parameterised von Bertalanffy growth function. All species displayed measurable differences in body size between locations, with individuals achieving a larger adult size at the higher latitude site (One Tree Island) for three of the four species examined. Resources and abundances of the study species were also measured, revealing some significant differences between locations. For example, for C. trifascialis, there was no difference in its preferred resource or in abundance between locations, yet it achieved a larger body size at the higher latitude location, suggesting a response to temperature. For some species, resources and abundances did vary between locations, limiting the ability to distinguish between a demographic response to temperature as opposed to a response to food or competition. Future studies of life histories and demographics at large spatial scales will need to consider the potentially confounding roles of temperature, resource usage and availability, and abundance/competition to disentangle the effects of these environmental variables.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank D DeVere, J Pitt, and WD Robbins for field assistance. We are also grateful to the staff of Lizard Island and One Tree Island Research Stations for logistic support. Comments from two anonymous reviewers and PL Munday greatly improved the manuscript. This work was supported by a National Science Foundation (USA) Graduate Research Fellowship (MLB) and by PADI Project A.W.A.R.E. (MLB).

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Correspondence to M. L. Berumen.

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Communicated by Biology Editor Prof. Philip Munday

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Berumen, M.L., Trip, E.D.L., Pratchett, M.S. et al. Differences in demographic traits of four butterflyfish species between two reefs of the Great Barrier Reef separated by 1,200 km. Coral Reefs 31, 169–177 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-011-0838-z

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Keywords

  • Chaetodontidae
  • Coral cover
  • Growth
  • Life history
  • Latitude