Are fish communities on coral reefs becoming less colourful?

Hemingson, Christopher R., Mihalitsis, Michalis, and Bellwood, David R. (2022) Are fish communities on coral reefs becoming less colourful? Global Change Biology, 28 (10). pp. 3321-3332.

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An organism's colouration is often linked to the environment in which it lives. The fishes that inhabit coral reefs are extremely diverse in colouration, but the specific environmental factors that support this extreme diversity remain unclear. Interestingly, much of the aesthetic and intrinsic value humans place on coral reefs (a core ecosystem service they provide) is based on this extreme diversity of colours. However, like many processes on coral reefs, the relationship between colouration and the environment is likely to be impacted by global environmental change. Using a novel community-level measure of fish colouration, as perceived by humans, we explore the potential links between fish community colouration and the environment. We then asked if this relationship is impacted by human-induced environmental disturbances, e.g. mass coral bleaching events, using a community-level dataset spanning 27 years on the Great Barrier Reef. We found that the diversity of colours found within a fish community is directly related to the composition of the local environment. Areas with a higher cover of structurally complex corals contained fish species with more diverse and brighter colourations. Most notably, fish community colouration contracted significantly in the years following the 1998 global coral bleaching event. Fishes with colouration directly appealing to human aesthetics are becoming increasingly rare, with the potential for marked declines in the perceived colour of reef fish communities in the near future. Future reefs may not be the colourful ecosystems we recognize today, representing the loss of a culturally significant ecosystem service.

Item ID: 73290
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-2486
Keywords: aesthetic value, climate change, colours, community colouration, coral reefs, degradation, fishes, habitat
Copyright Information: © 2022 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC CE140100020, ARC FL190100062
Research Data:
Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2022 08:30
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1805 Marine systems and management > 180504 Marine biodiversity @ 100%
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