Bony fish might not be as charismatic as their cartilage skeleton counterparts (sharks and rays) but they are a crucial element in aquatic ecosystems. Fish act as habitat shapers (parrot fish eating and re-distributing coral), they have mutually beneficial relationships with other marine life (anemone fish protecting its home) and they are part of an interconnected food web acting as herbivores, carnivores, and as prey. Fish experience similar threats to many marine animals: habitat destruction, overfishing and climate change. This makes them a perfect animal for a broad range of research.
PROJECT: The use of satellite tagging of ocean sunfish (Mola ramsayi) to understand habitat preference and seasonal movements off Nusa Penida, Indonesia
RESEARCHERS: Neil Loneragan & Marianne Nyegaard
LOCATION: Nusa Penida near Bali in Indonesia
Ocean sunfish (Mola ramsayi) are one of the largest bony fish growing up to 3.3m in length1. These epipelagic fish are seldom seen near shore2. However at reefs off Nusa Penida near Bali in Indonesia these enormous fish gather once a year, attracting divers from all over the world to witness this rare phenomenon first hand.
Despite their popularity amongst visiting scuba divers and although they are often seen being cleaned by reef fish3,4, it is not known if this is the main reason for their near shore visits.
This project aims to use:
1. tissue sampling to explore if there are any population structures between or within these areas, based on mitochondrial and genomic DNA analysis.
2. photo identification to establish whether the same individuals are seen several times during a season, are re-sighted between seasons, or if encounters are generally based on ‘new’ individuals coming into and staying on the reefs slopes for a brief time only.
3. satellite tagging to
a. obtain accurate, small-scale location information to better understand residence time within the Nusa Penida Marine Protected Area during the “sunfish season”.
b. track the animals after they leave Nusa Penida, to understand the extent of their seasonal migrations and their possible connectivity to sunfish elsewhere.
c. understand if the sunfish move around the Indonesian islands, potentially being exposed to the high fishing effort in these waters.
The types of satellite tags used have the capacility to record GPS locations when the fish come to the surface, yielding quite accurate positions. If the fish stay ar the surface long enough, the data will be transferred via satellite to land. Depending on the frequency and duration of surface visits by the tagged sunfish, the project may be able to follow their tracks and dive behaviour during the tag deployment, as opposed to retrospectively reconstruct their tracks at the end of the project.
The recent establishment of a Marine Protected Area around Nusa Penida provides opportunities for management and the data described above is now crucial to support the development of local management strategies.
The Foundation are funding part of the satellite tagging, which is scheduled to go ahead in August-October 2015, when the sunfish are anecdotally most abundant on the reef systems.
Epipelagic: Inhabiting the upper zone of the ocean from just below the surface to approximately 100m deep.
REFERENCES: 1. http://australianmuseum.net.au/southern-ocean-sunfish-mola-ramsayi
2. Pope EC, Hays GC, Thys TM, Sims DW, Quieiroz N, Hobsons VJ, Kubicek L, Houghton JDR (2010) The biology and ecology of the ocean sunfish Mola mola: a review of current knowledge and future research perspectives. Review in Fish Biology and Fisheries, 20: 471-487
3. Konow N, Fitzpatrick R, Barnett A (2006) Adult emperor angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) clean giant sunfishes (Mola mola) at Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia. Coral Reefs, 25: 208-208
4. unpublished observational data 2007-2011
PROJECT: A ‘sea change’ for the fish and sharks of Australia’s beaches: urbanisation effects in the surf zone
RESEARCHERS: OLDS, A, CONNOLLY, R , HUIJBERS, Chantal & SCHLACHER, T
LOCATION: Coastal New South Wales and Queensland
Beaches comprise 70% of the world’s coastline and are of immense value to society as prime sites for recreation and as sources of a substantial amount of global seafood1-3. It is the surf zone that supports these valuable fisheries by providing critical habitat and feeding sites for a diversity of fish and sharks at various stages of their life cycle3,4. For example, many fish that are caught in other habitats use beaches as juveniles4.
This project aims to:
Determine, for the first time, the impact of coastal urbanisation on the fish and sharks of Australia’s surf beaches by contrasting abundance, diversity, and assemblage composition of fishes across a gradient of shorelines subjected to increasing degrees of human impact.
Urbanisation has already been shown to impact bird populations, food webs and key ecological processes (i.e. carrion removal) on beaches5,6.
Fish and sharks will be surveyed at ten beaches (20 sites in total) during summer and winter in both southern Queensland in 2015 and southern New South Wales in 2016. These two regions were chosen because they encompass a gradient of urbanisation from wilderness areas to highly-modified surf beaches that front coastal cities.
The centrepiece of this project is a new instrument, the ‘mobile surf BRUV’ (Baited Remote Underwater Vehcile), which has been specially developed for this project to overcome difficulties associated with sampling fish and sharks in high-wave conditions.
Carrion: the decaying flesh of dead animals
1. Dugan JE, Defeo O, Jaramillo E, Jones AR, Lastra M, Nel R, Peterson CH, Scapini F, Schlacher T, Schoeman DS (2010) Give Beach Ecosystems Their Day in the Sun. Science 329:1146
2. Schlacher TA, Dugan J, Schoeman DS, Lastra M, Jones A, Scapini F, McLachlan A, Defeo O (2007) Sandy beaches at the brink. Diversity and Distributions 13:556-560
3. Defeo O, McLachlan A, Schoeman DS, Schlacher T, Dugan J, Jones A, Lastra M, Scapini F(2009) Threats to sandy beach ecosystems: A review. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 81:1-12
4. Marin Jarrin JR, Miller JA (2013) Sandy beach surf zones: An alternative nursery habitat for 0-age Chinook salmon. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 135:220-230
5. Huijbers CM, Schalcher TA, Schoeman DS, Olds AD, Weston MA, Connolly RM(2015) Limited functional redundancy in vertebrate scavenger guilds fails to compensate for the loss of raptors from urbanized sandy beaches. Diversity and Distributions 21:55-63
6. Meager JJ, Schlacher TA, Nielsen T (2012) Humans alter habitat selection of birds on ocean-exposed sandy beaches. Diversity and Distributions 18:294-306
PROJECT TITLE: Saving the undersea giants – managing grouper spawning aggregations in Papua New Guinea
RESEARCHERS: Dr. Glenn Almany and Peter Waldie
LOCATION: Papua New Guinea
Globally, around three in four known grouper spawning aggregations are in decline or have disappeared entirely due to overfishing. Despite this, few of these sites are under effective management.
This project will supply relevant biological and ecological information to implement effective, ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) of two threatened species – brown-marbled and camouflage grouper – at two multi-species Fish Spawning Aggregations in Papua New Guinea.
Grouper are the primary targets of subsistence, artisanal and commercial fisheries throughout their range, forming the basis of a billion dollar per year global fishery, and providing livelihoods and food security for 100s of millions of people. While there is substantial scientific support for the efficacy of extensive networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) excluding fishers in developing countries from great swathes of their fishing grounds is neither socially nor politically acceptable.
In such scenarios, small MPAs, protecting target species during particularly sensitive stages of their life cycles, are but one aspect of a broader management approach. The challenge is that in order for this approach to be successfully applied, biological data on the species of interest and continued involvement of local resource users is required. The results of this study will not only fill vital knowledge gaps impeding the successful implementation of EBFM worldwide, but will be directly applied to the implementation of the one of the most comprehensive EBFM regimes to date in a developing nation.
Ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) approach - considers the entire ecosystem, including humans, and aims to identify and address threats to populations throughout their entire life-cycle.
Fish Spawning Aggregations: Location where fish group together to release their eggs for fertilisation.
PROJECT TITLE: How do coral reef fish cope with elevated UV levels
RESEARCHERS: Dr. Ulrike E. Siebeck and Christoph Braun
LOCATION: Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia and The University of Queensland, St Lucia
Despite living in an environment with high ultraviolet radiation (UVR) levels our knowledge about the impact of UVR on reef fish and their protection mechanisms (avoidance behaviour, DNA repair and protection with natural sunscreens) is limited.
During his PhD Chris discovered that:
• the most important factors influencing UV-induced DNA damage in reef fish are species and size
• UV vision did not result in UVR avoidance behaviour
• Some reef fish species can repair DNA damage caused by UVR
• Some reef fish can secrete natural sunscreens that protect against UVR
The results of this study serve as a valuable baseline and open the door for future studies that will investigate possible connections of the impact of UVR on reef fish on their reproduction and community structure within a coral reef.
PROJECT TITLE: Population structure of black marlin (Istiompax indica) within Australian waters
RESEARCHERS: Mike Bennett, Julian Pepperell & Sam Williams
LOCATION: Four Australian regions: northeast Australia, southeast Australia, West Australia and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Additional samples were also sourced from the Port of Chenggong, southeast Taiwan
This project investigated the population structure of black marlin, a highly migratory pelagic fish. A lack of clarity on the population structure of black marlin across the whole range of the species constrains the ability of fisheries to conduct reliable ‘stock assessment’. The uncertainty that surrounds population size(s) and whether the population is stable, growing or declining has resulted in black marlin being listed as ‘Data Deficient’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
In order to test the current theory that there is a single population in the Indo-Pacific, tissue samples were analysed with the latest genetic technologies. After overwhelming support from the Australian game fishing community over 200 small tissue samples (fin clips) were collected in a non-destructive manner. Additional samples were also sourced from commercially landed adult fish at the Port of Chenggong, southeast Taiwan.
A set of species-specific genetic markers was designed to investigate regions of the genome that were considered likely to provide information on population structure. The analysis of the samples was able to successfully disprove the null-hypothesis and indicate that there are at least three genetically different populations in the central Indo-Pacific. These populations occur in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, eastern Indian Ocean and South China Sea.
This species has adopted multiple spawning grounds however individuals return each year to the site of their ‘birth’, much like salmon which return to the same body of water to spawn. Such natal site fidelity could provide complete or partial barriers to interbreeding with neighbouring sub-populations and create separate stocks. These finding have led to the recommendation that regional management authorities use this information to help development of formal stock assessments for black marlin in both the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
In addition, the development of 18 new genetic markers for identifying population structure in black marlin was a major success, and the ability to apply these markers to five other billfishes (swordfish, blue marlin, striped marlin, sailfish and shortbill spearfish) provides researchers with a powerful genetic tool that can be utilised to resolve population structures for each of these species.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ provides taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information on plants, fungi and animals that have been globally evaluated using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. This system is designed to determine the relative risk of extinction, and the main purpose of the IUCN Red List is to catalogue and highlight those plants and animals that are facing a higher risk of global extinction (i.e. those listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable).
Non-destructive: Samples were collected without causing irreparable damage to the animal
Null-hypothesis: The hypothesis that there is no difference between populations (study groups)
Pelagic: Animals found in the open ocean. Alternatively bottom-dwelling animal are referred to as benthic.
PROJECT TITLE: Surgeonfish on the move and the tropicalisation of temperate marine ecosystems
RESEARCHERS: Adriana Verges
LOCATION: South East Australia
The range expansion of tropical fish as a result of ocean warming can pose a serious threat to the temperate areas they invade. In the east coast of Australia, warming is occurring at a rate two to three times the global average and a poleward shift in the distribution of tropical fishes has already been observed, with many species becoming increasingly abundant in temperate regions such as Sydney.
In this project researchers are quantifying the ecological impacts of tropical surgeonfish expanding their distribution into temperate algal-dominated systems in South East Australia. Surgeonfishes are the most numerous and diverse group of tropical herbivores entering temperate Australian communities. Although most surgeonfishes are not able to consume adult kelps, some species may nevertheless influence these habitats by consuming juvenile seaweeds. Since the distribution of surgeonfishes is naturally largely restricted to tropical seas, with only a very small number of species being native to warm-temperate habitats, rapid increases in their abundance within temperate regions may have substantial impacts on the structure and function of temperate algal-dominated ecosystems including overgrazing of important kelp forests or seagrass meadows.
Tropical: Originating from geographic region between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer.
Temperate: Geographic area that lies between tropical and polar regions. In the southern hemisphere from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Antarctic Circle
PROJECT TITLE: What's on the menu at fish cleaning stations?
RESEARCHERS: Jess Morgan
LOCATION: University of Queensland
Marine cleaning stations are locations where fish congregate for the removal of parasites by cleaner fish. In one day a single cleaner fish on the Great Barrier Reef can remove and eat 1200 blood-sucking parasites living on coral reef fishes1. Current scientific and anecdotal knowledge of gnathiid isopods (parasites) is limited to:
• gnathiids are small crustaceans that parasitize several, if not dozens, of fish and shark species
• they are an important component of the cleaning symbiosis seen among fish species
• gnathiids are a significant dietary component of cleaner fish in Australia
• Severe infestations causing tissue damage and some deaths have been reported on marine fish in aquaria2
Surprisingly, due to the difficulty in identifying species, that is the extent of our knowledge about many Gnathia species. Species identification is critical given that different species of gnathiids likely transmit different types of fish ‘malaria’ and to identify the role and number of different species involved in aquaculture infestations and fish disease transmission.
They are of a commercial concern in aquaculture where heavy infections can cause significant fish losses, reduced growth and lower market value due to external damage.
A DNA-based marker that could rapidly distinguish the different gnathiid isopod species would benefit fisheries scientists, museum and aquarium curators, aquaculturalists and isopod researchers. Amplifying the DNA of many gnathiid isopod species has proved more difficult than expected in the past. The technology for working with DNA has become easier with more specific primers, robust reagents and powerful enzymes.
This project re-opens the door on DNA sequencing a problematic isopod group which are in desperate need of genotyping technology. This is a proof of principle project to test modern DNA extraction and amplification technologies on gnathiid isopods.
Symbiosis: the relationship between two organisms that is mutually beneficial
Primers: strand of short nucleic acid sequences that serves as a starting point for DNA synthesis
Reagents: a substance used in a chemical reaction to detect, measure, examine, or produce other substances.
Enzymes: substances that act as a catalyst in chemical reactions
Genotyping: investigating the genetic make-up of an organism
1. Grutter A (1996) Parasite removal rates by the cleaner wrasse Labroides dimidiatus. Marine Ecology Progress Series 130: 61-70. doi: 10.3354/meps130061
2. Marino F, Giannetto S, Paradiso ML, Bottari T, De Vico G, Macrì B (2004) Tissue damage and haematophagia due to praniza larvae (Isopoda: Gnathiidae) in some aquarium seawater teleosts. Diseases of aquatic organisms 59: 43-47. doi: 10.3354/dao059043
PROJECT TITLE: Development of an effective conservation tool for fishes on ‘featureless’ soft sediments: movement patterns and minimum reserve size for the blue-spotted flathead
RESEARCHERS: Lachlan Fetterplace, Dr Nathan Knott and Prof Andy Davis
LOCATION: Jervis Bay Marine Park, NSW
A large part of Australian marine protected areas (MPAs) and the no-take zones within these areas cover sand. The fish living on this sandy habitat form a vital part of the food chain, including being prey items for larger species such as fish and marine mammals and are a major component of the commercial and recreational fishing catch. MPAs are often put in place to not only protect habitat but also protect a portion of fish populations as a conservation measure. It makes sense then, that when we set aside small areas that are free from fishing (i.e. MPAs) that we want these areas to be effective in providing that protection.
But are the protected areas covering sand actually doing this?
To get the balance right the Foundation supported Professor Andy Davis and his research team to track the blue-spotted flathead (Platycephalus caeruleopunctatus) in the soft sediment fish community of Jervis Bay Marine Park. Blue-spotted flathead are a popular table-fish and one of the species whose movement patterns are not well known. It’s often been argued that, for fish, spatial closures will be of little conservation value over soft sediments (e.g. sand) as the fish are thought to show little site attachment in this habitat type. In contrast to this view, the initial tracking research suggests that blue-spotted flathead don’t move around a great deal in the short term, moving less than 500 m within a seventy day period. The movement data is the first gathered for blue-spotted flathead, but the continuation and expansion of this initial short term tracking is vital to the interpretation of the effectiveness of marine protection on soft sediment fish assemblages.
As part of the Australian Animal Tagging and Monitoring System, the researchers have the ability to detect fish that leave the park on over 2000 receivers around the Australian coastline. The 30-plus tagged flathead will continue to provide data on their movement for the next 12 months and beyond (up to 3 yrs whilst batteries last), and by the end of that time the team will have a better understanding of their home range, spawning and migration movements in relation to present MPA size.
PROJECT TITLE: Finding Nemo's personalities: Fitness Consequences of Personality Trait Variation in the Endemic Anemonefish, Amphiprion Latezonatus
RESEARCHERS: Marian Wong and Anna Scott
LOCATION: North Solitary Island, NSW
As human beings, we are well aware that people differ in their personalities. Within moments, we can tell that Bob is social, Suzanne is bold and Craig is aggressive. Such consistency in individual behaviour also exists in animals, but relatively little is known about the evolutionary causes and consequences of animal personality traits.
In this project researchers investigate how personality traits influence the reproductive success of one of the most vulnerable and fascinating members of Australian marine biodiversity, the endemic anemonefish Amphiprion latezonatus. Endemic species typically posses a range of features which make them susceptible to extinction, such as limited geographic range and small population sizes.
Anemonefish, like Amphiprion latezonatus, are further vulnerable because they simply cannot survive outside the protection of their host anemone. Previously no studies had investigated the factors affecting individual reproductive success for this species, which is a key life history trait that influenced population size, recruitment and dynamics. By quantifying reproductive success and linking it with socio-ecological factors and behavioural traits, we will therefore generate data that will be of critical importance for the management and conservation of this species.
This study was conducted at the remote and beautiful location of North Solitary Island, NSW. Here, Amphiprion latezonatus lives in great abundance yet its behaviour has not been studied.
This project aims to:
1) quantify the personality traits of individual Amphiprion latezonatus in their natural environment
2) relate variation in personality traits among individuals to variation in their local environment
3) link variation in personality traits in relation to local socio-ecological context to individual fitness (or reproductive output)
Endemic: Native or restricted to a certain location
PROJECT: Getting there and staying there: How important is larval dispersal versus local selection in determining the genetic composition of a coral reef fish population?
RESEARCHERS: Cynthia Riginos & Libby Liggins
LOCATION: Lizard Island, northern Great Barrier Reef
The fishes we see swimming over our reefs are the rare survivors of a perilous journey and risky adolescence. Most reef dwellers spend time as planktonic larvae that swim for days to months before 'settling' to a reef. Although many do not survive the journey in the open ocean, the transition into reef-life during settlement can also lead to mass mortality. This project aimed to determine whether the composition of an adult fish population is shaped more by what gets to the reef (larval dispersal) or by what is able to survive there (local selection).
The research has focused on the neon damselfish (Pomacentrus coelestis), a common, planktivorous, coral reef fish that is iconic to the tropical waters of Australia but is found throughout the Indo-Pacific. The researchers have sampled different age classes in this population at multiple time points, and are using newly developed genetic markers coupled with otolith microstructure analysis, to disentangle the relative roles of larval dispersal and local selection in shaping the genetic composition of adult populations.
If larval dispersal is the main factor shaping the composition of adult populations:
- fishes (and other coral reef animals) will need to be managed as a network of populations
- larval dispersal models (such as those based on biophysical models) may be adequate predictors of population connectivity
Alternatively, if the effect of local selection is significant:
- then larval dispersal alone is not sufficient for predicting connections among populations (nor are biophysical models)
- traditional genetic estimates of connectivity may underestimate the true rates of larval exchange among populations
Otolith: Three inner ear bones of vertebrates, involved in sensing gravity and movement.
What's on the menu at fish cleaning stations?
A multi-disciplinary evaluation of the hybrid white-bonnet anemonefish: behaviour shaping evolutionary outcomes of hybridization
Surgeonfish on the move and the tropicalisation of temperate marine ecosystems
Finding Nemo’s personalities: fitness consequences of personality trait variation in the endemic anemonefish, Amphiprion latezonatus
Saving the undersea giants – managing grouper spawning aggregations in Papua New Guinea
Getting there and staying there: how important is larval dispersal versus local selection in determining the genetic composition of a coral reef fish population?
Efficiency of current marine park zonation in conserving exploited shark-like batoids on the Great Barrier Reef
Assessing the efficacy of small marine protected areas for the conservation of eastern blue gropers and wobbegong sharks
Efficiency of current marine park zonation in conserving exploited shark-like batoids on the Great Barrier Reef
The interacting effects of ocean acidification and global warming on a common coral reef fish, Amphiprion melanopus
Population genomics to predict conservation effects of marine reserves: an example from South East Queensland
Social recognition and chemical communication in juvenile marine fishes