The demography of Red Sea reef fishes since the Last Glacial Maximum
Coral reefs are at increasing risk of climate-induced mass bleaching events and mass mortality, yet we do not know how coral reef fish species respond to habitat loss on temporal and spatial scales relevant to climate change. The Red Sea represents an ideal model system to address this given that many reef fish populations persisted during the Last Glacial Maximum despite a significant loss of coral reefs. I studied their demogaphic history to determine the impact of environmentally-induced habitat loss.
High-throughput sequencing data combined with an Approximate Bayesian Computation framework (including machine learning techniques) provided sufficient power to estimate population parameters for five reef fish species, Dascyllus abudafur, Dascyllus trimaculatus, Dascyllus marginatus, Pomacanthus maculosus, and Carcharhinus melanopterus. The genetic bottleneck experienced during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) was not as small as was expected, highlighting the importance of coral reef habitat and refugia. Studying the impact of the LGM on Dascyllus marginatus, a species with a restricted range in the Indian Ocean, enabled me to use this study design to determine that the refugia was unlikely to have been outside the Red Sea, but rather in-situ. The extensiveness of an external population did not appear to affect the response to habitat loss. Lastly, studying the impact of the LGM on Carcharhinus melanopterus, a larger, more motile shark species, showed a similar pattern of response to habitat loss. I then compared the Red Sea barrier with other biogeographic barriers across the Indo-Pacific; in this case it was stronger than some but not as strong as the Indo-Pacific barrier.
Overall, the demographic histories showed a similar and mild response to environmentally-induced habitat loss in the Red Sea across species, albeit with some ecological differences. Two case studies allowed me to uncover more about the unique history of the Red Sea, and provided opportunities to discuss other important questions around coral reef refugia and the biogeography of the Indo-Pacific.