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Humans and climate variability threaten coral reef fish with small ranges

Ana Sequeira | Feb 03, 2016

Ana Sequeira

Feb 03, 2016

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Coral reef fish species are at heightened risk from human pressures and environmental change.

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Dr. Ana Sequeira
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Mellin C, Mouillot D, Kulbicki M, McClanahan TR, Vigliola L, Bradshaw CJA, Brainard RE, Chabanet P, Edgar GJ, Fordham DA, Friedlander AM, Parravicini V, Sequeira AMM, Stuart-Smith RD, Wantiez L, Caley MJ. 2016.Humans and seasonal climate variability threaten large-bodied coral reef fish with small ranges. Nature Communications, 7: art10491


  • In an analysis of almost 10,000 records from more than 900 locations, we identify specific types of fishes that are most vulnerable to direct human impacts and climate change.
  • We find that larger-bodied fish, especially those with smaller geographic ranges, are particularly vulnerable.
  • These species are 67% less likely to occur where human impact and shifting seasonal temperatures exceed critical thresholds.
  • Reefs in the Coral Triangle tend to be highly affected by human activity, such as fishing and urban development.
  • In contrast, reefs in New Caledonia or the Great Barrier Reef are less impacted and tend to host more large, small-ranging fish species.


Coral reefs are among the most species-rich and threatened ecosystems on Earth, yet the extent to which human stressors determine species occurrences, compared with biogeography or environmental conditions, remains largely unknown. With ever-increasing human-mediated disturbances on these ecosystems, an important question is not only how many species can inhabit local communities, but also which biological traits determine species that can persist (or not) above particular disturbance thresholds. Here we show that human pressure and seasonal climate variability are disproportionately and negatively associated with the occurrence of large-bodied and geographically small-ranging fishes within local coral reef communities. These species are 67% less likely to occur where human impact and temperature seasonality exceed critical thresholds, such as in the marine biodiversity hotspot: the Coral Triangle. Our results identify the most sensitive species and critical thresholds of human and climatic stressors, providing opportunity for targeted conservation intervention to prevent local extinctions.



We thank C. Mora, B. Halpern and A. MacNeil for sharing ideas, and many staff from the authors’ institutions for contributing to data collection, in particular R. Galzin and M. Harmelin-Vivien. CM was funded by an ARC Grant (DE140100701). Dr. Ana Sequeira was supported by a Collaborative Post-doctoral Fellowship (AIMS, CSIRO and UWA) from the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre. This work was done within the Marine Biodiversity Hub, a collaborative partnership supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program (NERP). The PROCFish data set was collected under the COFish and PROCFish-C programs implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) through funding by European Development Funds (EDF). TRM and the Western Indian Ocean data collection were supported by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Life-history traits and species distributions were accessed through the GASPAR programme financed by the Fondation pour la Recherche en Biodiversité (FRB) within the CESAB structure.