Increasing sediment input into coastal environments is having a profound influence on shallow marine habitats and associated species. Coral reef ecosystems appear to be particularly sensitive, with increased sediment deposition and re-suspension being associated with declines in the abundance and diversity of coral reef fishes. While recent research has demonstrated that suspended sediment can have negative impacts on post-settlement coral reef fishes, its effect on larval development has not been investigated. In this study, we tested the effects of different levels of suspended sediment on larval growth and development time in Amphiprion percula, a coral reef damselfish. Larvae were subjected to four experimental concentrations of suspended sediment spanning the range found around coastal coral reefs (0–45 mg l−1). Larval duration was significantly longer in all sediment treatments (12 days) compared with the average larval duration in the control treatment (11 days). Approximately 75% of the fish in the control had settled by day 11, compared with only 40–46% among the sediment treatments. In the highest sediment treatment, some individuals had a larval duration twice that of the median duration in the control treatment. Unexpectedly, in the low sediment treatment, fish at settlement were significantly longer and heavier compared with fish in the other treatments, suggesting delayed development was independent of individual condition. A sediment-induced extension of the pelagic larval stage could significantly reduce numbers of larvae competent to settle and, in turn, have major effects on adult population dynamics.
A.S.W. and G.P.J. conceived the experiment; A.S.W. and G.G.K.E. designed the experimental apparatus; A.S.W. and I.M.M. conducted the experiment; A.S.W., M.I.M. and F.J.K. performed analyses; and A.S.W., M.I.M., G.G.K.E., I.M.M., F.J.K. and G.P.J. wrote the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
This work was supported by James Cook University Graduate Research Fund grants and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Science for Management Awards to A.S.W. and I.M.M. Further financial assistance was provided by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
- © 2014. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd