Quaternary coral reef refugia preserved fish diversity

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Science  30 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6187, pp. 1016-1019
DOI: 10.1126/science.1249853

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Ancient reefs provided fishy refuges

Climate fluctuations have occurred repeatedly in Earth's history, and so there is much to be learned from examining the responses of past systems. Pellessier et al. reconstructed paleoenvironments over the past 3 million years from sediment cores collected across coral reef systems to explore the impacts of past conditions on reef fish diversity. Coral reefs survived in the Indo-Australian regions during times of otherwise extensive habitat loss. These robust reefs can explain much of the diversity found in present-day reef fish species.

Science, this issue p. 1016


The most prominent pattern in global marine biogeography is the biodiversity peak in the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Yet the processes that underpin this pattern are still actively debated. By reconstructing global marine paleoenvironments over the past 3 million years on the basis of sediment cores, we assessed the extent to which Quaternary climate fluctuations can explain global variation in current reef fish richness. Comparing global historical coral reef habitat availability with the present-day distribution of 6316 reef fish species, we find that distance from stable coral reef habitats during historical periods of habitat loss explains 62% of the variation in fish richness, outweighing present-day environmental factors. Our results highlight the importance of habitat persistence during periods of climate change for preserving marine biodiversity.

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