Reference : Adaptive capacity assessment of damselfishes (Pomacentridae)
Dissertations and theses : Doctoral thesis
Life sciences : Zoology
Adaptive capacity assessment of damselfishes (Pomacentridae)
[fr] Évaluation de la capacité adaptative des poissons demoiselles (Pomacentridae)
Gajdzik, Laura mailto [Université de Liège > Département de Biologie, Ecologie et Evolution > Morphologie fonctionnelle et évolutive >]
Université de Liège, ​Liège, ​​Belgique
Doctor in Sciences
Parmentier, Eric mailto
Frederich, Bruno mailto
Dauby, Patrick mailto
Denoël, Mathieu mailto
Laudet, Vincent mailto
Nieberding, Caroline mailto
[en] Assessing the multiple facets of adaptive capacity is a core issue as it reflects species' ability to cope with variations in environmental conditions. Within the threatened coral reefs, the Pomacentridae (damselfishes) represent a very suitable model to undertake such issue. Damselfishes are one of the most ecologically dominant reef fish families whose lineages repeatedly radiated across convergent trophic strategies. These strategies comprise (1) pelagic feeders (mainly picking zooplankton in the water column), (2) benthic feeders (essentially feeding on algae and vagile invertebrates on the benthos) and (3) an intermediate group (foraging in the entire bentho–pelagic compartment). To date, most studies compared the degree of vulnerability between specialists and generalists because the first ones are thought to have a higher risk of extinction. The tripartite trophic guild system in Pomacentridae provides the opportunity to step out of the binary "specialist–generalist" classification and to robustly grasp the adaptive capacity by focusing on fundamental units in assemblages.

In the present thesis, I estimated the ecology of damselfishes by quantifying their eco–functional diversity (including trophic, habitat and behavioural diversity and also the ecosystem functions they performed) and by gauging their abiotic (i.e. species–environment relationship) and biotic (i.e species–species relationship) interactions. Ecological results revealed (a) the systematic presence of the three main trophic guilds in each assemblage, and (b) a consistent pattern of species eco–functional niches that are highly differentiated and evenly distributed in eco–functional spaces of similar size, but they provided (c) limited support for any degree of trophic plasticity (i.e. little evidence for any geographic variation in the diet of widespread species). The trophic guilds were also functionally dissimilar and displayed different levels of functional diversity. The intermediate group was the least functionally diverse guild with the lowest functional redundancy, while opposite findings were found for the pelagic–feeding guild. Then, I quantified the genetic diversity, which varied among trophic guilds and was associated with variation in their trophic ecology and habitat–behavioural traits (e.g. pelagic feeders have the lowest genetic and ecological diversity). Using a phylogenetic framework, I found that functional traits were evolutionarily labile and accumulated at a similar rate within the three trophic guilds. Transition rates among guilds were also biased, suggesting differences in the evolvability. The evaluation of all of these components indicated that some processes occurring at an "ecological" timescale and others at an "evolutionary" timescale had concordant effects (e.g. the coupling between levels of genetic and ecological diversity supported by the evolvability result for the intermediate group), although sometimes one type of process had more important effects (e.g. the principle of competitive exclusion probably shaped the high functional diversity of pelagic feeders).

Overall, I demonstrated that the adaptive capacity of Pomacentridae is bounded and that trophic guilds are not equal in the face of environmental changes. The case of pelagic feeders illustrates a scenario wherein evolution and the right environmental conditions led to the success of a given group, but their persistence may be jeopardized by a low genetic diversity. The two other guilds possess more intrinsic assets (e.g. less restricted habitat and dietary requirements) to adapt. Given the uncertainty regarding the pace at which evolutionary processes will occur and the potential imperilment of evolvability to act as a source of future diversity, the ability to diversify along many niche axes associated with broad intrinsic characteristics (i.e. higher genetic diversity) may help organisms to sustain themselves in a long–term perspective and to maintain more ecosystem functions.
Applied and Fundamental FISH Research Center - AFFISH-RC
Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (Communauté française de Belgique) - F.R.S.-FNRS
Researchers ; Professionals

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