Big fish reveal shelter secrets on reefcam

Feb 13, 2012

When it comes to choosing a place to hang out, big reef fish like coral trout, snappers and sweetlips have strong architectural preferences.

The choices big make on where to shelter could have a major influence on their ability to cope with , say scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral at James Cook University.

In research aimed at understanding the process of fish when sustain major damage, PhD student James Kerry and Professor David Bellwood have found that big fish show a marked preference for sheltering under large, flat table corals, as opposed to branching corals or massive corals (known as bommies).

In a study that covered 17 separate locations round Lizard Island in far North Queensland, the researchers videoed the behaviour of large , allowing them to identify the kind of habitat they most preferred and depended on.

"Like human beings, fish have strong preferences on where they like to hang out – and it appears that they much prefer to shelter under overhanging tablecorals. This tells us quite a bit about how important these corals are to the overall structure of the reef and the large reef fish that live there," says James. "The reason for the fishes' preference is not yet clear – but possibilities include hiding from predators such as sharks, shading themselves from ultraviolet sunlight, or lying in ambush for prey.

"The importance of this finding is that table corals are among the types most vulnerable to climate change," Prof. Bellwood explains. "In shallow waters and on the tops of reefs, they are often the main source of cover for these big fish.

"If they die back as a result of bleaching or disease, or are destroyed by storm surges, this would strip the reef of one of its main attractions, from a coral trout's viewpoint."

The researchers also proved that it isn't the coral, so much as the shelter that is important to big fish, by deploying artificial shelters made from plastic in the lagoon.

"We made one sort with no roof, one with a translucent roof and one with a roof painted black. Far and away the fish preferred to shelter under the black roof, which suggests they either want to hide or else to avoid direct sunlight," James says.

While the team is planning further experiments to clarify the reasons for the fishes' shelter preferences, their early findings may provide a useful insight to reef managers, about the importance of trying to maintain a range of structures and shelters as climate change bears down on the Great Barrier Reef, including the highly susceptible tabular corals.

Explore further: Scientist discovers populations of rare songbird in surprising new habitat

More information: Their paper "The effect of coral morphology on shelter selection by coral reef fishes", by J. T. Kerry and D. R. Bellwood appears in the journal Coral Reefs.

Provided by ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Lessons in coral reef survival from deep time

Jan 23, 2012

Lessons from tens of millions of years ago are pointing to new ways to save and protect today's coral reefs and their myriad of beautiful and many-hued fishes at a time of huge change in the Earth's systems.

Turf wars: Sand and corals don't mix

Oct 08, 2008

When reef fish get a mouthful of sand, coral reefs can drown. That's the latest startling evidence to emerge from research into the likely fate of reefs under climate change and rising sea levels, at the ARC Centre of Excellence ...

Rabbits to the rescue of the reef

Mar 19, 2008

While rabbits continue to ravage Australia’s native landscapes, rabbit fish may help save large areas of the Great Barrier Reef from destruction.

Weed-eating fish 'key to reef survival'

Mar 10, 2011

Preserving an intact population of weed-eating fish may be vital to saving the world's coral reefs from being engulfed by weed as human and climate impacts grow.

Recommended for you

Nestling birds struggle in noisy environments

Oct 29, 2014

Unable to fly, nestling birds depend on their parents for both food and protection: vocal communication between parents and offspring helps young birds to determine when they should beg for food and when they should crouch ...

The secret life of the sea trout

Oct 29, 2014

Jan G. Davidsen and his graduate students are spies. They use listening stations and special tags they attach to their subjects to track their movements. They follow their subjects winter and summer, day ...

Giant tortoises gain a foothold on a Galapagos Island

Oct 28, 2014

A population of endangered giant tortoises, which once dwindled to just over a dozen, has recovered on the Galapagos island of Española, a finding described as "a true story of success and hope in conservation" ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.