Standard Presentation (15 mins) Australian Marine Sciences Association 2022

 The persistence of a key ecosystem function despite coral reef degradation (#14)

Helen F Yan 1 2 , David R Bellwood 1 2
  1. Research Hub for Coral Reef Ecosystem Functions, College of Science and Engineering, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia
  2. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia

Under current trajectories, it is unlikely that the coral reefs of the future will resemble those of the past. As multiple stressors, such as climate change and coastal development, continue to impact coral reefs, understanding the changes in ecosystem functioning is imperative to protect key ecosystem services. Here, we used a long-term dataset of benthic reef fishes, spanning nearly 30 years, to identify multi-decadal trends in fish biomass production on an increasingly degraded coral reef. We converted fish abundances into estimates of community productivity to track the long-term trend of fish biomass production through time. Despite multiple stressors, including mass coral bleaching events, extreme sedimentation, and multiple cyclones, the productivity of the benthic reef fish communities remained remarkably constant through time. This lack of a trend was mirrored by both fish species richness and abundance through time. Although the species composition of the communities is changing, these new community configurations are still able to maintain a steady level of fish biomass production. Consequently, it is likely that these transitioning systems will still provide some critical ecosystem functions and services, despite increasing degradation.