UWA Oceans Institute

What can we learn from our most studied coral reefs?

Ningaloo Reef

WA's majestic Ningaloo Reef.


Researchers from The University of Western Australia (UWA), the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), have developed the first maps predicting how many fish species occur together in different areas of the Ningaloo Reef, by analysing data collected from Ningaloo Reef and the Great Barrier Reef.

The research has revealed that knowledge from the Great Barrier Reef can be invaluable in understanding less well studied reef systems like Ningaloo Reef.

Lead author of the study Dr Ana Sequeira, Postdoctoral Fellow from UWA’s Oceans Institute said that previous research on the Great Barrier Reef was helpful in understanding patterns of marine life on Ningaloo Reef.

“The research results show evidence that comparable patterns in the number of fish species can be predicted by developing a model specifically for Ningaloo Reef or by using a similar model from the Great Barrier Reef, something were refer to as model transferability,” Dr Sequeira said.

“This happened despite big differences in the environments of these two tropical ecosystems and their locations on opposite sides of the Australian continent.”

Dr Sequeira and her co-authors found that predicting similar patterns between each reef was improved when using a similar set of conditions.

“This included matching the fish counts from each reef system so they were from the same time period (one year), sampling the same area of reef and using data collected from the same year” Dr. Sequeira said.

Dr. Sequeira highlighted that due to the global pressure on reefs derived from human activity, application of model transferability can be most useful in locations where knowledge needs are high but research funds are scarce, particularly for remote areas.

“Research like this has application for conservation planning and management of complex coral reef systems, especially where information is sparse,” she said.

“The transferability framework developed through this research can help guide the design of better and more efficient sampling programs into the future.”

The research was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology and was funded by the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC) collaboration.

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