Impact of cyclones on hard coral and metapopulation structure, connectivity and genetic diversity of coral reef fish

Gerlach, Gabriele, Kraemer, Philipp, Weist, Peggy, Eickelmann, Laura, and Kingsford, Michael J. (2021) Impact of cyclones on hard coral and metapopulation structure, connectivity and genetic diversity of coral reef fish. Coral Reefs, 40 (4). pp. 999-1011.

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Cyclones have one of the greatest effects on the biodiversity of coral reefs and the associated species. But it is unknown how stochastic alterations in habitat structure influence metapopulation structure, connectivity and genetic diversity. From 1993 to 2018, the reefs of the Capricorn Bunker Reef group in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef were impacted by three tropical cyclones including cyclone Hamish (2009, category 5). This resulted in substantial loss of live habitat-forming coral and coral reef fish communities. Within 6–8 years after cyclones had devastated, live hard corals recovered by 50–60%. We show the relationship between hard coral cover and the abundance of the neon damselfish (Pomacentrus coelestis), the first fish colonizing destroyed reefs. We present the first long-term (2008–2015 years corresponding to 16–24 generations of P. coelestis) population genetic study to understand the impact of cyclones on the meta-population structure, connectivity and genetic diversity of the neon damselfish. After the cyclone, we observed the largest change in the genetic structure at reef populations compared to other years. Simultaneously, allelic richness of genetic microsatellite markers dropped indicating a great loss of genetic diversity, which increased again in subsequent years. Over years, metapopulation dynamics were characterized by high connectivity among fish populations associated with the Capricorn Bunker reefs (2200 km2); however, despite high exchange, genetic patchiness was observed with annual strong genetic divergence between populations among reefs. Some broad similarities in the genetic structure in 2015 could be explained by dispersal from a source reef and the related expansion of local populations. This study has shown that alternating cyclone-driven changes and subsequent recovery phases of coral habitat can greatly influence patterns of reef fish connectivity. The frequency of disturbances determines abundance of fish and genetic diversity within species.

Item ID: 70240
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: Connectivity, Coral reef fish, Cyclone, Disturbance, Genetic diversity, Larval dispersal, Neon damselfish
Copyright Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Date Deposited: 03 Mar 2022 02:05
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 50%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410299 Ecological applications not elsewhere classified @ 50%
SEO Codes: 19 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATURAL HAZARDS > 1904 Natural hazards > 190405 Meteorological hazards (e.g. cyclones and storms) @ 50%
28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 50%
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