Impact of cyclones on hard coral and metapopulation structure, connectivity and genetic diversity of coral reef fish

Gabriele Gerlach, Philipp Kraemer, Peggy Weist, Laura Eickelmann, Michael J. Kingsford
2021 Coral reefs  
AbstractCyclones have one of the greatest effects on the biodiversity of coral reefs and the associated species. But it is unknown how stochastic alterations in habitat structure influence metapopulation structure, connectivity and genetic diversity. From 1993 to 2018, the reefs of the Capricorn Bunker Reef group in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef were impacted by three tropical cyclones including cyclone Hamish (2009, category 5). This resulted in substantial loss of live
more » ... rming coral and coral reef fish communities. Within 6–8 years after cyclones had devastated, live hard corals recovered by 50–60%. We show the relationship between hard coral cover and the abundance of the neon damselfish (Pomacentrus coelestis), the first fish colonizing destroyed reefs. We present the first long-term (2008–2015 years corresponding to 16–24 generations of P. coelestis) population genetic study to understand the impact of cyclones on the meta-population structure, connectivity and genetic diversity of the neon damselfish. After the cyclone, we observed the largest change in the genetic structure at reef populations compared to other years. Simultaneously, allelic richness of genetic microsatellite markers dropped indicating a great loss of genetic diversity, which increased again in subsequent years. Over years, metapopulation dynamics were characterized by high connectivity among fish populations associated with the Capricorn Bunker reefs (2200 km2); however, despite high exchange, genetic patchiness was observed with annual strong genetic divergence between populations among reefs. Some broad similarities in the genetic structure in 2015 could be explained by dispersal from a source reef and the related expansion of local populations. This study has shown that alternating cyclone-driven changes and subsequent recovery phases of coral habitat can greatly influence patterns of reef fish connectivity. The frequency of disturbances determines abundance of fish and genetic diversity within species.
doi:10.1007/s00338-021-02096-9 fatcat:zedovjlsxraptctp65cpxqbtca