Skip to main content

Specializing on vulnerable habitat: Acropora selectivity among damselfish recruits and the risk of bleaching-induced habitat loss

Abstract

Coral reef habitats are increasingly being degraded and destroyed by a range of disturbances, most notably climate-induced coral bleaching. Habitat specialists, particularly those associated with susceptible coral species, are clearly among the most vulnerable to population decline or extinction. However, the degree of specialization on coral microhabitats is still unclear for one of the most ubiquitous, abundant and well studied of coral reef fish families—the damselfishes (Pomacentridae). Using high taxonomic resolution surveys of microhabitat use and availability, this study provides the first species-level description of patterns of Acropora selectivity among recruits of 10 damselfish species in order to determine their vulnerability to habitat degradation. In addition, surveys of the bleaching susceptibility of 16 branching coral species revealed which preferred recruitment microhabitats are at highest risk of decline as a result of chronic coral bleaching. Four species (i.e., Chrysiptera parasema, Pomacentrus moluccensis, Dascyllus melanurus and Chromis retrofasciata) were identified as highly vulnerable because they used only branching hard corals as recruitment habitat and primarily associated with only 2–4 coral species. The bleaching surveys revealed that five species of Acropora were highly susceptible to bleaching, with more than 50% of colonies either severely bleached or already dead. These highly susceptible corals included two of the preferred microhabitats of the specialist C. parasema and represented a significant proportion of its total recruitment microhabitat. In contrast, highly susceptible corals were rarely used by another specialist, P. moluccensis, suggesting that this species faces a lower risk of bleaching-induced habitat loss compared to C. parasema. As degradation to coral reef habitats continues, specialists will increasingly be forced to use alternative recruitment microhabitats, and this is likely to reduce population replenishment. Future research should focus on examining the fitness costs of using these alternative microhabitats.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Almany GR, Webster MS (2006) The predation gauntlet: early post-settlement mortality in reef fishes. Coral Reefs 25:19–22

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Ault TR, Johnson CR (1998) Relationships between habitat and recruitment of three species of damselfish (Pomacentridae) at Heron Reef, Great Barrier Reef. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 223:145–166

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Baker AC, Glynn PW, Riegl B (2008) Climate change and coral reef bleaching: An ecological assessment of long-term impacts, recovery trends and future outlook. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 80:435–471

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bellwood DR, Hughes TP, Folke C, Nystrom M (2004) Confronting the coral reef crisis. Nature 429:827–833

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Beukers JS, Jones GP (1997) Habitat complexity modifies the impact of piscivores on a coral reef fish population. Oecologia 114:50–59

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bonin MC, Srinivasan M, Almany GR, Jones GP (2009a) Interactive effects of interspecific competition and microhabitat on early post-settlement survival in a coral reef fish. Coral Reefs 28:265–274

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bonin MC, Munday PL, McCormick MI, Srinivasan M, Jones GP (2009b) Coral-dwelling fishes resistant to bleaching but not to mortality of host corals. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 394:215–222

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Booth DJ (1992) Larval settlement patterns and preferences by Domino damselfish Dascyllus albisella Gill. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 155:85–104

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Booth DJ (2002) Distribution changes after settlement in six species of damselfish (Pomacentridae) in One Tree Island lagoon, Great Barrier Reef. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 226:157–164

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Caley MJ, Munday PL (2003) Growth trades off with habitat specialization. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 270:S175–S177

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Carpenter KE, Abrar M, Aeby G, Aronson RB, Banks S, Bruckner A, Chiriboga A, Cortes J, Delbeek JC, DeVantier L, Edgar GJ, Edwards AJ, Fenner D, Guzman HM, Hoeksema BW, Hodgson G, Johan O, Licuanan WY, Livingstone SR, Lovell ER, Moore JA, Obura DO, Ochavillo D, Polidoro BA, Precht WF, Quibilan MC, Reboton C, Richards ZT, Rogers AD, Sanciangco J, Sheppard A, Sheppard C, Smith J, Stuart S, Turak E, Veron JEN, Wallace C, Weil E, Wood E (2008) One-third of reef-building corals face elevated extinction risk from climate change and local impacts. Science 321:560–563

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. De’ath G, Moran PJ (1998) Factors affecting the behaviour of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci L.) on the Great Barrier Reef: 2: Feeding preferences. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 220:107–126

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. DeMartini EE, Anderson TW, Kenyon JC, Beets JP, Friedlander AM (2010) Management implications of juvenile reef fish habitat preferences and coral susceptibility to stressors. Mar Freshw Res 61:532–540

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Doherty PJ, Dufour V, Galzin R, Hixon MA, Meekan MG, Planes S (2004) High mortality during settlement is a population bottleneck for a tropical surgeonfish. Ecology 85:2422–2428

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Donner SD, Skirving WJ, Little CM, Oppenheimer M, Hoegh-Guldberg O (2005) Global assessment of coral bleaching and required rates of adaptation under climate change. Global Change Biol 11:2251–2265

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Fabricius KE, De’ath G, Puotinen ML, Done T, Cooper TF, Burgess SC (2008) Disturbance gradients on inshore and offshore coral reefs caused by a severe tropical cyclone. Limnol Oceanogr 53:690–704

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Feary DA, Almany GR, McCormick MI, Jones GP (2007) Habitat choice, recruitment and the response of coral reef fishes to coral degradation. Oecologia 153:727–737

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Feary DA, McCormick MI, Jones GP (2009) Growth of reef fishes in response to live coral cover. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 373:45–49

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Futuyma DJ, Moreno G (1988) The evolution of ecological specialization. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 19:207–233

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Gardiner NM, Jones GP (2005) Habitat specialisation and overlap in a guild of coral reef cardinalfishes (Apogonidae). Mar Ecol Prog Ser 305:163–175

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Graham NAJ, Chabanet P, Evans RD, Jennings S, Letourneur Y, MacNeil MA, McClanahan TR, Ohman MC, Polunin NVC, Wilson SK (2011) Extinction vulnerability of coral reef fishes. Ecol Lett 14:341–348

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Hoegh-Guldberg O, Mumby PJ, Hooten AJ, Steneck RS, Greenfield P, Gomez E, Harvell CD, Sale PF, Edwards AJ, Caldeira K, Knowlton N, Eakin CM, Iglesias-Prieto R, Muthiga N, Bradbury RH, Dubi A, Hatziolos ME (2007) Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Science 318:1737–1742

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Holbrook SJ, Forrester GE, Schmitt RJ (2000) Spatial patterns in abundance of a damselfish reflect availability of suitable habitat. Oecologia 122:109–120

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Jones GP (1991) Postrecruitment processes in the ecology of coral reef fish populations: a multifactorial perspective. In: Sale PF (ed) The ecology of fishes on coral reefs. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 294–328

    Google Scholar 

  25. Jones GP, McCormick MI, Srinivasan M, Eagle JV (2004) Coral decline threatens fish biodiversity in marine reserves. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:8251–8253

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Julliard R, Jiguet F, Couvet D (2004) Common birds facing global changes: what makes a species at risk? Global Change Biol 10:148–154

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Kassen R (2002) The experimental evolution of specialists, generalists, and the maintenance of diversity. J Evol Biol 15:173–190

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Knowlton N (2001) The future of coral reefs. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98:5419–5425

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Koh LP, Sodhi NS, Brook BW (2004) Ecological correlates of extinction proneness in tropical butterflies. Conserv Biol 18:1571–1578

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Krebs CJ (1999) Ecological methodology. Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc., Menlo Park, USA

    Google Scholar 

  31. Lecchini D, Planes S, Galzin R (2005a) Experimental assessment of sensory modalities of coral reef fish larvae in the recognition of their settlement habitat. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 58:18–26

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Lecchini D, Shima J, Banaigs B, Galzin R (2005b) Larval sensory abilities and mechanisms of habitat selection of a coral reef fish during settlement. Oecologia 143:326–334

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Loya Y, Sakai K, Yamazato K, Nakano Y, Sambali H, van Woesik R (2001) Coral bleaching: the winners and the losers. Ecol Lett 4:122–131

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Manly BFJ, McDonald LL, Thomas DL, McDonald TL, Erickson WP (2002) Resource selection by animals: statistical design and analysis for field studies. Kluwer, Dordrecht

    Google Scholar 

  35. Marshall PA, Baird AH (2000) Bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef: differential susceptibilities among taxa. Coral Reefs 19:155–163

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Matthews B, Mazumder A (2006) Habitat specialization and the exploitation of allochthonous carbon by zooplankton. Ecology 87:2800–2812

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. McClanahan TR, Baird AH, Marshall PA, Toscano MA (2004) Comparing bleaching and mortality responses of hard corals between southern Kenya and the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Mar Pollut Bull 48:327–335

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  38. McCormick MI, Moore JAY, Munday PL (2010) Influence of habitat degradation on fish replenishment. Coral Reefs 29:537–546

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Munday PL (2000) Interactions between habitat use and patterns of abundance in coral-dwelling fishes of the genus Gobiodon. Environ Biol Fish 58:355–369

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Munday PL (2001) Fitness consequences of habitat use and competition among coral-dwelling fishes. Oecologia 128:585–593

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Munday PL (2004) Habitat loss, resource specialization, and extinction on coral reefs. Global Change Biol 10:1642–1647

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Öhman MC, Munday PL, Jones GP, Caley MJ (1998) Settlement strategies and distribution patterns of coral reef fishes. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 225:219–238

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Pianka ER (1966) Convexity, desert lizards, and spatial heterogeneity. Ecology 47:1055–1059

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Pratchett MS (2001) Dynamics of outbreak populations of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci L.) and their effects on coral reef ecosystems. Ph.D. thesis, James Cook University

  45. Pratchett MS (2007) Dietary selection by coral-feeding butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Raffles Bull Zool Suppl 14:171–176

    Google Scholar 

  46. Pratchett MS, Munday PL, Wilson SK, Graham NAJ, Cinneri JE, Bellwood DR, Jones GP, Polunin NVC, McClanahan TR (2008) Effects of climate-induced coral bleaching on coral reef fishes - Ecological and economic consequences. Oceanogr Mar Biol Annu Rev 46:251–296

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Rosenberg GH (1990) Habitat specialization and foraging behaviour by birds of Amazonian river islands in northeastern Peru. Condor 92:427–443

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Safi K, Kerth G (2004) A comparative analysis of specialization and extinction risk in temperate-zone bats. Conserv Biol 18:1293–1303

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Sale PF (ed) (1991) The ecology of fishes on coral reefs. Academic Press, San Diego

    Google Scholar 

  50. Sale PF (ed) (2002) Coral reef fishes: dynamics and diversity in a complex ecosystem. Academic Press, San Diego

    Google Scholar 

  51. Schmitt RJ, Holbrook SJ (1999) Settlement and recruitment of three damselfish species: larval delivery and competition for shelter space. Oecologia 118:76–86

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  52. Sheppard CRC (2003) Predicted recurrences of mass coral mortality in the Indian Ocean. Nature 425:294–297

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  53. Smith EP (1982) Niche breadth, resource availability, and inference. Ecology 63:1675–1681

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Srinivasan M (2006) Recruitment in time and space: the dynamics and distributions of reef fish populations on a low latitude coral reef. Ph.D. thesis, James Cook University

  55. Svenning JC (1999) Microhabitat specialization in a species-rich palm community in Amazonian Ecuador. J Ecol 87:55–65

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Thomas DL, Taylor EJ (1990) Study designs and tests for comparing resource use and availability. J Wildl Manag 54:322–330

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Wallace CC (1999) Staghorn corals of the world: a revision of the genus Acropora. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne

    Google Scholar 

  58. Wallace CC, Chen CA, Fukami H, Muir PR (2007) Recognition of separate genera within Acropora based on new morphological, reproductive and genetic evidence from Acropora togianensis, and elevation of the subgenus Isopora Studer, 1878 to genus (Scleractinia: Astrocoeniidae; Acroporidae). Coral Reefs 26:231–239

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Wilkinson CR (ed) (2004) Status of coral reefs of the world. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville

    Google Scholar 

  60. Willis BL, Page CA, Dinsdale EA (2004) Coral disease on the Great Barrier Reef. In: Rosenberg E, Loya Y (eds) Coral health and disease. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp 69–104

    Google Scholar 

  61. Wilson SK, Graham NAJ, Pratchett MS, Jones GP, Polunin NVC (2006) Multiple disturbances and the global degradation of coral reefs: are reef fishes at risk or resilient? Global Change Biol 12:2220–2234

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Wilson SK, Burgess SC, Cheal AJ, Emslie M, Fisher R, Miller I, Polunin NVC, Sweatman HPA (2008) Habitat utilization by coral reef fish: implications for specialists vs. generalists in a changing environment. J Anim Ecol 77:220–228

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Wilson SK, Adjeroud M, Bellwood DR, Berumen ML, Booth D, Bozec YM, Chabanet P, Cheal A, Cinner J, Depczynski M, Feary DA, Gagliano M, Graham NAJ, Halford AR, Halpern BS, Harborne AR, Hoey AS, Holbrook SJ, Jones GP, Kulbiki M, Letourneur Y, De Loma TL, McClanahan T, McCormick MI, Meekan MG, Mumby PJ, Munday PL, Ohman MC, Pratchett MS, Riegl B, Sano M, Schmitt RJ, Syms C (2010) Crucial knowledge gaps in current understanding of climate change impacts on coral reef fishes. J Exp Biol 213:894–900

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Mahonia na Dari Research Centre provided significant logistical and financial support during this project. Special thanks to Dr. Carden Wallace at the Museum of Tropical Queensland for granting access to the Acropora collection from Kimbe Bay and providing useful advice on field identification in that region. Geoff Jones, Glenn Almany, Hugh Sweatman and two anonymous reviewers contributed comments that greatly improved this manuscript. This project was funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the School of Marine and Tropical Biology at James Cook University and the Australian Coral Reef Society.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. C. Bonin.

Additional information

Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Hugh Sweatman

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bonin, M.C. Specializing on vulnerable habitat: Acropora selectivity among damselfish recruits and the risk of bleaching-induced habitat loss. Coral Reefs 31, 287–297 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-011-0843-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Acropora
  • Habitat degradation
  • Recruitment microhabitat
  • Coral mortality
  • Coral bleaching