Anomalous sea temperatures can impair coral reef fish recruitment

Shawna A. Foo, Rachel R. Carlson, Christopher Teague, Gregory P. Asner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding how temperature affects coral reef fish recruitment success is crucial for assessing impacts of ocean warming on coral reef resilience. We utilized a long-term fish survey dataset along the west coast of Hawai‘i Island to investigate the role of sea surface temperature (SST) in influencing recruitment timing and density. The dataset consisted of 17 years of surveys, with 25 sites annually surveyed in the months of May, July, September and November. We found that peak recruitment, i.e. the maximum number of recruits recorded across all surveys per year, usually occurred during July surveys. For sites where peak recruitment for that year occurred outside July, there were significantly fewer fish recruits than for sites whose peak recruitment occurred in July. In addition, the timing of peak recruitment is influenced by anomalously warm or cool years prior to spawning. The decrease in recruit density outside these times is likely influenced by recruits being exposed to temperatures warmer and cooler than their optimum. Our results show that climate variability is having an impact on the timing of peak recruitment, creating a mismatch between the thermal optimum of developing recruits and the thermal environment they develop in, negatively affecting recruit density in critical coral reef habitats. Altered and reduced recruitment has the potential to disrupt reef community structure and long-term fisheries sustainability in Hawai‘i, with important management implications for coral reefs in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number014074
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024


  • coral reef
  • ocean warming
  • recruit fish
  • sea surface temperature
  • sea surface temperature anomaly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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