Healthy mangrove forests help reef fish

Healthy mangrove forests help reef fish

A new study shows how healthy mangroves can help some reef fish cope with the effects of climate change.

Co-author Professor Peter Mumby of the ARC Center of Excellence at the University of Queensland (Coral CoE at UQ) explains that the warming of the oceans causes corals to whiten and reefs lose their structural complexity - and the hiding places get lost which offer protection to thousands of fish.

"When a juvenile arrives at a damaged reef, it can not hide anywhere and is easily spotted by predators - of course, predators have the same problem when they're young, the entire food web will be unproductive and few fish will survive," Mumby said.

Despite the alarming trend, the team found that mangroves can be a partial solution. "We know that some reef fish can use mangroves as an alternative nursery, providing a quiet, safe environment with plenty of food and allowing fish to grow larger before they set out to reef as adults," explains Prof Mumby.

The current study compared and validated model predictions with field data from Belize. The main author Dr. Alice Rogers of Victoria University of Wellington says the findings should support fisheries management strategies on the reef to protect areas now and in the future. "Mangroves allow some fish to avoid the challenges of early life on a damaged reef." Restoring mangroves can be important, but in places where that is impossible, research could in the future examine the adaptation of structures to mangrove-like habitats offer, "says Rogers.

Although the results of the study provide a glimmer of hope that does not undermine the importance of healthy habitats on the coral reef. Prof. Mumby emphasizes that the protection and restoration of mangrove habitats should be a priority.

"While we must make every effort to prevent reef deterioration, our study shows that healthy mangrove forests can help mitigate the effects of habitat loss on reefs and it is important that they are a priority in the fight against the effects of reefs In the end we have to protect intact combinations of mangroves and coral reefs, "concludes Prof. Mumby.