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The impact of range shifts on the stability of the gastrointestinal microbial community of the tropical herbivorous fish Siganus fuscescens

Over the last 50 years, the sea surface temperature of coastal West Australia has been increasing faster that the global average. In recent years, this warming trend observed in the Indian Ocean has affected the Leeuwin current, and correlated with an increase in tropical fish recruitment into the temperate  reefs of Geographe Bay. Siganus fuscsecens is one tropical fish species that has recently expanded its range pole-ward from the tropical reefs of Exmouth to Cockburn Sound. These tropical herbivores are known to consume seagrass and macroalgae, which are important habitat forming species in the temperate reef systems  of West Australia. In its native range, S. fuscsecens is a highly abundant, and plays a key role in maintaining the coral reef habitat through algal grazing. Therefore, as this species moves in to the abundant algal forests of Geographe Bay, the increased consumption of the macroalgae by S. fuscsecens could push the community structure toward a rocky barren.

The aim of this project is to compare the spatial variability in community composition of gastrointestinal microbes among three S. fuscsecens populations in West Australia. Using next generation Illumina sequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene, we intend to determine if gastrointestinal microbial composition is more stable within populations residing in their native range than those in their newly established  range. The general hypothesis is that fish populations within their native range will present less interspecific differences in microbial community structure, whereas those in recently established ranges will present more variable microbial composition as shown in other lower order marine systems.

Funding agency

Edith Cowan University
TrEnD laboratory, Curtin University

Project duration

This Honours project will commence in May 2016


Dr Megan Huggett
Dr Joseph Di Battista, Curtin University

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