Presence of cleaning mutualisms affect reef fish distribution forecasts

Mr Jose Ricardo Paula1, Prof.  Miguel  Araújo2,3,4, Dr. Rui Rosa1

1MARE – Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre, Laboratório Marítimo da Guia, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Cascais, Portugal, 2Rui Nabeiro Biodiversity Chair, Universidade de Évora, Évora, Portugal, 3Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, Madrid, Spain, 4Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Cleaning mutualisms are key ecological components in marine ecosystems, where cleaner fishes feed on and remove their client fishes’ ectoparasites. In fact, long-term cleaner fish removal experiments (with cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus) in small patch reefs have shown associated declines in reef fish diversity and abundance. Yet, there is no knowledge on how the presence of cleaning mutualisms may influence present and future (climate change-driven) forecasts of their client fishes. Here, we present the first global forecast of reef fish species distributions (136 client fish species; 46 locally-dependent on cleaner presence) under three different end of the century scenarios (RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP 8.5) using an ensemble of ecological niche models (with cleaner wrasse distribution also as a predictor). We found that forecasts using cleaner wrasse distribution were significantly different from those without it, and such a trend was more evident in species known to be locally dependent on cleaner’s presence. Thus, we argue that the forecasting of these interspecific interactions is crucial to fully understand the future impacts of climate change on the structure and health of tropical reef ecosystems.


I’m a PhD student under the supervision of Rui Rosa at University of Lisbon, Portugal. I’m passionate about cooperation (mutualisms) mainly in marine ecosystems. The main aim of my research is to use an integrative approach (combining biogeography, ecology, physiology, neuroendocrinology and behavioural ecology) to study how these mutualisms cope with future scenarios of ocean warming and acidification.

Species on the Move

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Species responses to climate change is a rapidly evolving research field, however, much of our progress is being made in independent research areas: e.g. understanding the process vs responding to the implications, terrestrial vs marine ecosystems, global meta-analyses vs in depth species-specific approaches. This interdisciplinary conference develops connections between these parallel streams, and across temporal and spatial scales.

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