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17 December: Seen one reef, seen them all? Australian reefs reveal shared secrets

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17 December 2015

For marine scientists, knowing where different species of fishes are found on a reef provides invaluable information about the health of the reef system, which is also important for management and conservation. But some reefs, like those in the Kimberly region off the northwest coast of Western Australia, are located in very remote areas, and so the energy and costs involved in studying them can be immense.

That’s why a group of scientists are testing a different approach – called model transferability – to see how well models developed for the largest reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), apply to other reef systems. The GBR is a treasure trove of information that has been intensively studied for more than 20 years. Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), the University of Western Australia (UWA) and CSIRO have compared predictions from models developed for the Great Barrier Reef with new models for Ningaloo Reef. These comparisons are helping the team understand the similarities and differences in patterns between reef systems, potentially saving a lot of time and money.

Their results are exciting because they show that fish patterns on reefs can be predicted using models from reefs that are separated by thousands of kilometres. Providing we identify the right model, we begin to predict what’s happening on another reef even before we have the data!

The paper “Transferability of predictive models of coral reef fish species richness” by Ana Sequeira, Camille Mellin, Hector Lozano-Montes, Mathew Vanderklift, Russ Babcock, Michael Haywood, Jessica Meeuwig and Julian Caley was published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology.