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Shade & Light

Some reef fish require large table corals to conceal them.

James Cook University researchers James Kerry and Professor David Bellwood constructed artificial habitat to test the attraction of concealment for large reef fish.

By James Kerry

Climate change is reducing the complexity of coral reefs, with implications for the reef fish that require large table corals to conceal them from predators, prey, and even ultraviolet light.

James Kerry is a PhD student in marine biology at James Cook University. The research was funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence and is published in the scientific journal Coral Reefs.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Healthy coral reefs are architecturally complex environments sporting a diversity of structures that include corals, overhangs, grooves, tunnels and spurs. This structural complexity is one of the elements that makes coral reefs so visually appealing, but hidden within the reef complex there might be certain shapes that are particularly important for the survival of reef fish.

It is well-known that intricate branching corals are the preferred habitat for many species of small reef fishes, but there is only anecdotal evidence for the structures preferred by larger coral reef fish. We therefore set out to investigate whether or not larger reef fish show a preference for certain shapes of corals, and studied three of the most common growth forms: table corals, branching corals and dome-shaped corals.

We used underwater video cameras to record the behaviour of large reef fish interacting with these corals at a number of sites around Lizard Island in the northern Great Barrier Reef. Careful analysis of the video footage showed a very clear pattern for the majority of the large reef fishes – they vastly preferred table corals over branching or dome shapes.

There were consistently greater numbers of large reef fish gathering around table corals. These individuals tended to be significantly larger than the fish associating with the other shaped corals studied...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.