Seasonal variation in reef fish assemblages in the environmentally extreme southern Persian/Arabian Gulf

Grace O. Vaughan, Holly A. Shiels, John A. Burt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The southern Persian/Arabian Gulf experiences extreme seasonal temperature variation (> 20 °C) making it among the most hostile reef environments on Earth. Previous anecdotal evidence has suggested that seasonal temperature changes may influence regional reef fish assemblages, but to date research has been limited. To examine the influence of temperature on reef fish abundance and composition, we performed visual surveys in summer and in winter over three years at three reefs in the southern Gulf (Dhabiya, Saadiyat and Ras Ghanada). Overall abundance of fishes was 40% higher in summer than in winter, and multivariate analyses showed strong and significant differences in overall seasonal community structure, consistent at all sites and across all years. Seasonal differences were largely driven by nine of the 30 observed species, which together accounted for 70% of the divergence in community structure between summer and winter. Of these nine species, Lutjanus ehrenbergii, Lutjanus fulviflamma, Plectorhinchus sordidus and Abudefduf vaigiensis were significantly more abundant in summer, Parupeneus margaritatus and Acanthopagrus bifasciatus, were significantly more common on reefs in winter. We discuss these changes in terms of seasonal physiological and ecological constraints, and explore the implications of these changes on the functional ecology of reef fishes in this thermally variable and extreme environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-416
Number of pages12
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Adaptation
  • Arabian Gulf
  • Ocean warming
  • Persian Gulf
  • Physiology
  • Reef fish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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