The influence of thermal extremes on coral reef fish behaviour in the Arabian/Persian Gulf

Daniele D’Agostino, John A. Burt, Tom Reader, Grace O. Vaughan, Ben B. Chapman, Veronica Santinelli, Geórgenes H. Cavalcante, David A. Feary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite increasing environmental variability within marine ecosystems, little is known about how coral reef fish species will cope with future climate scenarios. The Arabian/Persian Gulf is an extreme environment, providing an opportunity to study fish behaviour on reefs with seasonal temperature ranges which include both values above the mortality threshold of Indo-Pacific reef fish, and values below the optimum temperature for growth. Summer temperatures in the Gulf are comparable to those predicted for the tropical ocean by 2090–2099. Using field observations in winter, spring and summer, and laboratory experiments, we examined the foraging activity, distance from refugia and resting time of Pomacentrus trichrourus (pale-tail damselfish). Observations of fish behaviour in natural conditions showed that individuals substantially reduced distance from refugia and feeding rate and increased resting time at sub-optimal environmental temperatures in winter (average SST = 21 °C) and summer (average SST = 34 °C), while showing high movement and feeding activity in spring (average SST = 27 °C). Diet was dominated by plankton in winter and spring, while fish used both plankton and benthic trophic resources in summer. These findings were corroborated under laboratory conditions: in a replicated aquarium experiment, time away from refugia and activity were significantly higher at 28 °C (i.e. spring temperature conditions) compared to 21 °C (i.e. winter temperature conditions). Our findings suggest that P. trichrourus may have adapted to the Arabian/Persian Gulf environment by downregulating costly activity during winter and summer and upregulating activity and increasing energy stores in spring. Such adaptive behavioural plasticity may be an important factor in the persistence of populations within increasing environmentally variable coral reef ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)733-744
Number of pages12
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2 2019


  • Behaviour
  • Climate change
  • Coral reef fish
  • Extreme environment
  • Plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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