An extreme storm decreases reef fish abundance and richness but does not impact spatial heterogeneity

Tal Gavriel*, Assaf Zvuloni, Liraz Levy, Corrine Avidan, Lior Avidan, Yehezkel Buba, Shahar Chaikin, Ori Frid, Roi Holzman, Mai Lazarus, Shahar Malamud, Sagi Marom, Tal Perevolotsky, Renanel Pickholtz, Shira Salingre, Noy Shapira, Jonathan Belmaker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Storms are among the most common disturbances within coral reef ecosystems. However, their effects on the diversity of reef fishes vary and range from negative to positive. Moreover, storm impacts on spatial heterogeneity of the community are unclear, as an uneven spatial impact can increase heterogeneity, whereas uniform habitat degradation can decrease heterogeneity. Understanding how storms alter the community spatial structure is crucial for evaluating the resilience of reef fish communities across scales. We explored the effect of a strong storm that occurred in March 2020 in the Gulf of Aqaba, where storms are rare. Using data collected from reef knolls surveyed repeatedly since 2015, we analyzed the storm's effects on the structure and spatial heterogeneity of the fish community across multiple scales. We found a post-storm decrease in fish density which dropped to less than half the pre-storm state, along with an increase in community evenness. Yet, the storm impacts differed considerably between sites located less than 5 km apart. We further found that the spatial heterogeneity of the community increased after the storm. However, this was primarily driven by a local reduction in abundance rather than an uneven spatial loss of species. The fish community showed striking recovery and regained baseline richness, abundance, and diversity values within a year. Thus, it appears that although storms may cause short-term increases in spatial heterogeneity, these changes are caused by temporary local losses, and the storm did not produce long-lasting spatial effects on the reef fish community. Additionally, our results suggest the resilience of a reef fish community unaccustomed to storm disturbances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1395-1410
Number of pages16
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2023


FundersFunder number
Israel Nature and Park Authority
Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat


    • Coral reef
    • Disturbance
    • Gulf of Aqaba
    • Recovery
    • Reef resilience
    • Scale
    • Transient species
    • Zeta diversity


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