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Beyond corals and fish: the effects of climate change on noncoral benthic invertebrates of tropical reefs


Tropical coral reefs are among the most-species rich habitats on Earth. However, climate change is threatening these natural wonders across the world, and most scientists agree that the current changes in climate conditions are occurring at a much faster pace than in the past. Such rapid changes are potentially beyond the capacity of reefs to adapt and recover. Current research in tropical ecosystems has largely focussed on the framebuilding corals and fishes, but other benthic marine invertebrates provide crucial services to reef systems, with roles in nutrient cycling, water quality regulation, and herbivory.

An international team of researchers from Australia, Germany and New Zealand have now synthesized the effects of rapidly changing environmental conditions on non-coral tropical benthic invertebrates. Assessing these effects is multifold, since many organisms will be exposed to multiple stressors concurrently, including anthropogenic stressors. The autors have developed a schematic diagram which attempts to visually explain the relationships between the major physical and climate change induced impacts on the basic biological and ecological processes, and this clearly shows the interconnectivity of all these processes. Basically it shows that we will have major changes in dispersal and recruitment, an increase invasive species, the ranges of species changing, species being lost, and habitat loss all of which will impact on the functioning of coral reef systems. These losses of some species will trigger economic losses and negative effects on ecosystem function.  Obviously complete loss of coral reefs will have major economic effects on the economies of countries which rely on tourism or on reefs to provide protection of low lying areas from tropical storms. This review is intended to create a framework with which to predict the vulnerability of benthic invertebrates to the stressors associated with climate change, as well as their adaptive capacity, aiming to assist scientists, managers, and policy-makers to better develop and implement regional research and management strategies, based on observed and predicted changes in environmental conditions. The review considers all coral reefs, but there is a considerably emphasis on the Great Barrier Reef.

The paper has just appeared in a leading international journal on climate change - "Global Change Biology" Oct 2008.

Przeslawski, R., Ahyong, S., Byrne, M., Wörheide, G., & Hutchings, P. (2008). Beyond corals and fish: the effects of climate change on non-coral benthic invertebrates of tropical reefs. Global Change Biology, 14, 2773-2795.
Please see abstract