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Impacts of coral bleaching on reef fish abundance, biomass and assemblage structure at remote Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles: insights from two survey methods

Koester, Anna and Gordó−Vilaseca, Cesc and Bunbury, Nancy and Ferse, Sebastian C.A. and Ford, Amanda K. and Haupt, Philip and A'Bear, Luke and Bielsa, Maria and Burt, April and Letori, Jake and Mederic, Emma and Nancy, Ella and Sanchez, Cheryl and Waller, Matt and Wild, Christian (2023) Impacts of coral bleaching on reef fish abundance, biomass and assemblage structure at remote Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles: insights from two survey methods. Frontiers in Marine Science, 10 . NA. ISSN 2296-7745

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Introduction: Coral bleaching immediately impacts the reef benthos, but effects on fish communities are less well understood because they are often delayed and confounded by anthropogenic interactions. Methods: We assessed changes in fish abundance, biomass and community composition before and after the 2015/16 coral bleaching event at Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles, where local human impacts are minimal, but reefs suffered 50% bleaching-induced coral mortality. We monitored 12 shallow (2–5 m water depth) and nine deep (15 m water depth) permanent survey sites using two survey methods: indicator surveys recording 84 taxa over six years (pre-: 2014; post-bleaching: 2016–2019, 2021), sizing fish based on six size-class categories, and extended fish surveys recording 198 taxa over two years (pre-: 2015; post-bleaching: 2020) with size estimates to the nearest cm (excluding fish < 8 cm). Results: During indicator surveys, mean fish abundance did not change on deep reefs. However, abundance increased by 77% on shallow reefs between 2014 and 2016, which was mainly driven by increases in herbivores and omnivores, likely as a response to elevated turf algae cover following coral mortality. Overall (and functional group-specific) indicator fish biomass did not differ between 2014 and 2016 and remained at or above pre-bleaching levels throughout 2016–2021. In contrast, extended fish surveys in 2015 and 2020 showed a 55–60% reduction in overall abundance on shallow and deep reefs, and a 69% reduction in biomass on shallow reefs, with decreases in biomass occurring in all functional groups. Biomass on deep reefs did not differ between 2015 and 2020. Multivariate analysis of both data sets revealed immediate and long-lasting differences between pre- and post-bleaching fish community compositions, driven largely by herbivorous, omnivorous and piscivorous taxa. Discussion: Results from the indicator surveys suggest that the bleaching event had limited impact on fish abundance and biomass, while the extended surveys recorded changes in abundance and biomass which would otherwise have gone undetected. Our findings improve understanding of the shift a broad community of fish undergoes following a mass coral bleaching event and highlights the value of survey methods that include the full suite of species to detect ecological responses to environmental drivers.

Item Type: Journal Article
Subjects: Q Science > Q Science (General)
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
S Agriculture > SH Aquaculture. Fisheries. Angling
Divisions: School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Ocean and Natural Sciences (SAGEONS)
Depositing User: Amanda Ford
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2024 01:01
Last Modified: 17 Jan 2024 01:01

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