Standard Presentation (15 mins) Australian Marine Sciences Association 2022

Mapping fish and fish behaviour to track ecological processes on coral reefs (#16)

Robert P Streit 1 2 3 , Sterling B Tebbett 1 2 3 , David R Bellwood 1 2 3
  1. James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia
  2. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Townsville, QLD, Australia
  3. Research Hub for Coral Reef Ecosystem Functions, Townsville

As coral reefs around the world are impacted by global climate change, ecological conditions are shifting. In this new context, it is more critical than ever to move beyond static, one-off snapshots of ecological processes, towards a more dynamic understanding of processes through space and time.

In this respect, quantifying the functions delivered by coral reef fishes in high spatial and temporal resolution may be particularly informative, yet challenging. This is because these functions can help stabilise ecological trajectories on reef, be it by eating and removing harmful algae, controlling sediment loads or capturing external nutrients in the form of plankton.

By, using structure-from-motion photogrammetry and photo time-series on a climate-impacted coral reef, we mapped fish and fish behaviour to ask: can fishes keep up with changing conditions? Will fish-driven functions disappear completely or be compressed into smaller and smaller sweet spots?

In addressing these questions, we show that the value of mapping coral reefs goes beyond tracking benthic conditions alone. These maps can be an invaluable tool in detecting shifts in ecological processes. However, to be useful they need to be small-scale, high-detail and repeated, all of which creates challenges for broad applicability given the currently available methodologies.