Ottiomofore et al. (2017) Ecology and Evolution, 7:2800.
Coral reefs and their associated fauna are largely impacted by ongoing climate change. Unravelling species responses to past climatic variations might provide clues on the consequence of ongoing changes. Here, we tested the relationship between changes in sea surface temperature and sea levels during the Quaternary and present- day distributions of coral reef fish species. We investigated whether species- specific responses are associated with life- history traits. We collected a database of coral reef fish distribution together with life- history traits for the Indo- Pacific Ocean. We ran species distribution models (SDMs) on 3,725 tropical reef fish species using contemporary environmental factors together with a variable describing isolation from stable coral reef areas during the Quaternary. We quantified the variance explained independently by isolation from stable areas in the SDMs and related it to a set of species traits
including body size and mobility. The variance purely explained by isolation from stable coral reef areas on the distribution of extant coral reef fish species largely varied across species. We observed a triangular relationship between the contribution of isolation from stable areas in the SDMs and body size. Species, whose distribution is more associated with historical changes, occurred predominantly in the Indo- Australian archipelago, where the mean size of fish assemblages is the lowest. Our results suggest that the legacy of habitat changes of the Quaternary is still detectable in the extant distribution of many fish species, especially those with small body size and the
most sedentary. Because they were the least able to colonize distant habitats in the past, fish species with smaller body size might have the most pronounced lags in tracking ongoing climate change.