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Consequences of extreme life history traits on population persistence: do short-lived gobies face demographic bottlenecks?

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Abstract

The majority of coral reef goby species are short-lived, with some highly abundant species living less than 100 d. To understand the role and consequences of this extreme life history in shaping coral reef fish populations, we quantitatively documented the structure of small reef fish populations over a 26-month period (>14 short-lived fish generations) at an inshore reef on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Most species with life spans >1 yr, such as pomacentrids, exhibited a peak in recruitment during the austral summer, driving seasonal changes in the small fish community composition. In contrast, there were no clear changes in goby community composition, despite the abundance of short-lived, high turnover species. Species of Eviota, the most abundant gobiid genus observed, showed remarkably similar demographic profiles year-round, with consistent densities of adults as well as recently recruited juveniles. Our results demonstrate ongoing recruitment of these small cryptic fishes, which appears to compensate for an exceptionally short life span on the reef. Our results suggest that gobiid populations are able to overcome demographic limitations, and by maintaining reproduction, larval survival and recruitment throughout the year, they may avoid population bottlenecks. These findings also underline the potential trophodynamic importance of these small species; because of this constant turnover, Eviota species and other short-lived fishes may be particularly valuable contributors to the flow of energy on coral reefs, underpinning the year-round trophic structure.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the staff of Orpheus Island Research Station for field support; R Bonaldo, J Hopf, V Mocellin, P Osmond, T Sunderland and J Welsh for field assistance; H Larson and R Winterbottom for taxonomic identifications; C Goatley, R Bonaldo and three anonymous reviewers for helpful discussions or comments on the earlier drafts of the manuscript. This project was supported by the Australian Research Council (DRB).

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Lefèvre, C.D., Nash, K.L., González-Cabello, A. et al. Consequences of extreme life history traits on population persistence: do short-lived gobies face demographic bottlenecks?. Coral Reefs 35, 399–409 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-016-1406-3

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