Butterflyfish suffer after coral bleaching

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The loss of corals through bleaching can have severe effects upon the abundance of butterflyfishes, says new research.

Tropical marine butterflyfishes are often dependent upon hard corals for food, and scientists have now shown that they become less abundant when corals die off.

The scientists monitored Trunk Reef on the central Great Barrier Reef, off Australia, between 2000 and 2005 and recorded a 90%+ loss in hard coral cover due to severe bleaching.

Although the abundance of Chaetodon species remained normal in the four months following the initial coral die-off, by 2005 the fishes had become far less common.

Chaetodon baronessa, C. lunulatus, C. trifascialis, C. plebeius and C. rainfordi, which all feed exclusively on coral poylps were hardest hit.

Those whose diet included other organisms besides corals, including C. auriga, C. aureofasciatus, C. citrinellus, C. melannotus and C. vagabundus, did not decline in abundance as much.

The study proves that coral bleaching can have a knock-on effect to fish species and shows that those which are less reliant upon corals are most resilient.

The Chaetodon currently contains around 92 species, many of which are popular fish for the tropical marine aquarium. The genus is one of 16 in the family Chaetodontidae.

For more information see the paper: Pratchett MS, Wilson SK and AH Baird (2006) - Declines in the abundance of Chaetodon butterflyfishes following extensive coral depletion. Journal of Fish Biology. Vol. 69. Issue 5. p 1269. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8649.2006.01161.x