Oral Presentation Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference 2017

The decline in abundance and diversity of Chaetodon butterflyfish and effects on sociality due to coral loss. (#126)

Cassandra A Thompson 1
  1. James Cook Univeristy, Townsville

Specialised fishes that have evolved close and critical relationships with scleractinian corals may be extremely vulnerable to widespread reef degradation and coral loss. Temporal changes in composition and abundance of butterflyfishes has been documented at Lizard Island in the northern Great Barrier Reef, which has been subject to several recent and major disturbances, including two intense cyclones and a severe coral bleaching event. The aim of this presentation is to discover if coral loss (in this case, extreme coral loss and disturbance) has sub-lethal effects on Chaetodon butterflyfish by causing them to travel further to find food and a mate. Particular interest is measuring whether there is a change to the social structure of these fishes when their habitat is reduced and individuals may be forced to cohabit or be further apart and expend more energy to find each other in order to reproduce. Sampling was undertaken in February 2017 to quantify the abundance of different coral-feeding butterflyfishes at multiple locations around Lizard Island, and then compared with previous surveys undertaken periodically since 1995.  Specifically, data from 2017 was compared to data from 2002 and 2009. The survey method involved 5 x 50m transects in four habitat zones (base, slope, crest, flat) at four different sites. On each transect a visual survey was conducted, recording numbers of individuals, pairs, groups of three or more, and juveniles while a visual survey to quantify live coral cover was undertaken on the same transect lines. Data is currently being analysed for changes in Chaetodon sociality, while there is an unequivocal decline in the abundance and diversity of butterflyfishes shown by recent surveys. The full results will be ready for presentation at the Australian Society for Fish Biology conference in July 2017.