University Of Tasmania

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Global warming may disproportionately affect larger adults in a predatory coral reef fish

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 04:09 authored by Messmer, V, Pratchett, MS, Hoey, AS, Tobin, AJ, Coker, DJ, Cooke, SJ, Clark, TD
Global warming is expected to reduce body sizes of ectothermic animals. Although the underlying mechanisms of size reductions remain poorly understood, effects appear stronger at latitudinal extremes (poles and tropics) and in aquatic rather than terrestrial systems. To shed light on this phenomenon, we examined the size dependence of critical thermal maxima (CTmax) and aerobic metabolism in a commercially important tropical reef fish, the leopard coral grouper (Plectropomus leopardus) following acclimation to current-day (28.5 °C) vs. projected end-of-century (33 °C) summer temperatures for the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR). CTmax declined from 38.3 to 37.5 °C with increasing body mass in adult fish (0.45–2.82 kg), indicating that larger individuals are more thermally sensitive than smaller conspecifics. This may be explained by a restricted capacity for large fish to increase mass-specific maximum metabolic rate (MMR) at 33 °C compared with 28.5 °C. Indeed, temperature influenced the relationship between metabolism and body mass (0.02–2.38 kg), whereby the scaling exponent for MMR increased from 0.74 ± 0.02 at 28.5 °C to 0.79 ± 0.01 at 33 °C, and the corresponding exponents for standard metabolic rate (SMR) were 0.75 ± 0.04 and 0.80 ± 0.03. The increase in metabolic scaling exponents at higher temperatures suggests that energy budgets may be disproportionately impacted in larger fish and contribute to reduced maximum adult size. Such climate-induced reductions in body size would have important ramifications for fisheries productivity, but are also likely to have knock-on effects for trophodynamics and functioning of ecosystems.


Publication title

Global Change Biology










Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Place of publication

9600 Garsington Rd, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox4 2Dg

Rights statement

Copyright 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Coastal or estuarine biodiversity