Assessing environmental correlates of fish movement on a coral reef

Abstract

Variation in dispersal and movement patterns of coral reef fishes is likely linked to changes in environmental conditions. Monitoring in situ environmental parameters on coral reefs in conjunction with the movements of fishes can help explain the relationship between exploited populations and their environment. Sixty adult Lethrinus miniatus were acoustically tagged and monitored along a coral reef slope for up to 1 yr. Individuals occurred more often on the reef slope during days of cooler temperatures, suggesting a thermal tolerance threshold may exist. Results indicate that individuals responded to elevated temperatures by moving away from the reef slope to deeper adjacent habitats, thus shifting their position in the water column to remain at a preferred temperature. Space use within the water column (vertical activity space) was not influenced by environmental parameters or fish size, but this result was possibly influenced by use of deeper habitat outside the acoustic array that was not monitored. With elevation of ocean temperature, L. miniatus may need to adapt to warmer waters or disperse into cooler habitats, by either shifting their distribution deeper or towards higher latitudes. Identifying key environmental drivers that affect the distribution of reef fishes is important, and may allow managers to predict the effect of these changes on exploited species.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the staff and students of the Fishing and Fisheries Research Group for assisting with this project, particularly A. Tobin, F. de Faria, E. Lédée, S. Munroe, M. Espinoza, S. Moore and J. Matley. Infrastructure and field support provided by the Australian Animal Tagging and Monitoring System facility of the Integrated Marine Observing System and the Australian Institute of Marine Science was greatly appreciated. Maps were produced by E. Lédée with data provided by the Commonwealth of Australia (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority), GoogleTMearth, and DigitalGlobe. Funding for this research was provided by the Australian Research Council and Australian Institute of Marine Science awarded to M.R.H. Additional research funding was granted to L.M.C. from James Cook University School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. L.M.C. was also supported by an AIMS@JCU Postgraduate Research Scholarship and stipend. All research activities were conducted under GBRMPA permit numbers G10/33754.1 and G10/33758.1 and Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry permit number 144482. Treatment of all animals was conducted under ethical guidelines approved by JCU animal ethics number A1566. The authors also thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Leanne M. Currey.

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Communicated by Ecology Editor Dr. Alastair Harborne

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Currey, L.M., Heupel, M.R., Simpfendorfer, C.A. et al. Assessing environmental correlates of fish movement on a coral reef. Coral Reefs 34, 1267–1277 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-015-1318-7

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Keywords

  • Acoustic telemetry
  • Fisheries management
  • Ocean temperature
  • Changing climate
  • Lethrinidae