Effects of ocean acidification on visual risk assessment in coral reef fishes


1. With the global increase in CO2 emissions, there is a pressing need for studies aimed at understanding the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems. Several studies have reported that exposure to CO2 impairs chemosensory responses of juvenile coral reef fishes to predators. Moreover, one recent study pointed to impaired responses of reef fish to auditory cues that indicate risky locations. These studies suggest that altered behaviour following exposure to elevated CO2 is caused by a systemic effect at the neural level.

2. The goal of our experiment was to test whether juvenile damselfish Pomacentrus amboinensis exposed to different levels of CO2 would respond differently to a potential threat, the sight of a large novel coral reef fish, a spiny chromis, Acanthochromis polyancanthus, placed in a watertight bag.

3. Juvenile damselfish exposed to 440 (current day control), 550 or 700 μatm CO2 did not differ in their response to the chromis. However, fish exposed to 850 μatm showed reduced antipredator responses; they failed to show the same reduction in foraging, activity and area use in response to the chromis. Moreover, they moved closer to the chromis and lacked any bobbing behaviour typically displayed by juvenile damselfishes in threatening situations.

4. Our results are the first to suggest that response to visual cues of risk may be impaired by CO2 and provide strong evidence that the multi-sensory effects of CO2 may stem from systematic effects at the neural level.

Ferrari M. C. O., McCormick M. I., Munday P. L., Meekan M. G., Dixson D. L.,   Lönnstedt O., & Chivers D. P., in press. Effects of ocean acidification on visual risk assessment in coral reef fishes. Functional Ecology doi:10.1111/j.1365-2435.2011.01951.x. Article (subscription required).

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