Healthy mangroves can help fight the consequences of climate change on coralreef fisheries, according to a University of Queensland-led study.

UQ’s Professor Peter Mumby said corals have been bleached and reefs have losttheir structural complexity as a major consequence of warming seas.

“Many people are worried that – due to climate change – reef fishery yieldscould halve if coral reefs flatten, losing the hiding places that supportthousands of fish,” he said.

“When a young fish arrives at a degraded reef it has nowhere to hide and iseasily targeted by predators.

“Of course, predators experience the same problem when they’re young, so theentire food web becomes unproductive and few fish survive.”

Despite the alarming trend, the team found mangroves provided a partialsolution.

“We know that many reef fish can use mangroves as an alternative nurseryhabitat to the reef,” Professor Mumby said.

“Mangroves provide a calm, safe environment with plenty of food and allow fishto grow larger before heading out to the reef as adults.

“In fact, we discovered that these nurseries could support fisheriesproductivity that is equal to that in complex reefs that lack nurseries.”

The researchers from UQ, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studiesand Victoria University of Wellington, compared and validated modelpredictions with field data from Belize.

Victoria University’s Dr Alice Rogers said the results should inform reeffisheries management strategies to protect areas now and into the future.

“Mangrove nurseries essentially allow some fish to sidestep the challenges ofearly life on a degraded reef,” she said.

“These fish then benefit by finding it relatively easy to find food because ithas few places to hide.

“Mangrove restoration can be important, but in places where that’s impossible,future research might examine adapting structures to offer mangrove-likenursery functions.

“This would be in environments that either do not support natural mangroveforests or have too large a tidal range to provide stable nursery functions incoastal fringes.”

Professor Mumby said the protection and restoration of mangrove habitatsshould remain a priority.

“While we need to take every effort to prevent reef degradation, our studyreveals that healthy mangrove forests can help buffer the effects of habitatloss on reef fisheries.

“It’s critical that they need to remain a priority as part of the battle tomitigate climate change impacts on coral reefs and their functioning.

“Ultimately, we need to protect intact combinations of mangroves and coralreefs.”

The research has been published in PLOS Biology (DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.3000510).

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