Life-history characteristics of six tropical Lethrinus species sampled from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area were compared. Two species groups were identified based on fork length (LF): large species with maximum LF > 640 mm (longface emperor Lethrinus olivaceus, yellowlip emperor Lethrinus xanthochilus and spangled emperor Lethrinus nebulosus) and small species with maximum LF < 480 mm (Pacific yellowtail emperor Lethrinus atkinsoni, pink ear emperor Lethrinus lentjan and ornate emperor Lethrinus ornatus). Lifespan was not correlated with LF. Early growth for all species was rapid and similar during the first few years of life, but coefficients of the von Bertalanffy growth function varied considerably among species. Growth also differed between sexes for L. atkinsoni. Reproductive characteristics varied among species, with peak periods of spawning occurring in November to December for L. atkinsoni, July to August for L. nebulous, September to October for L. olivaceus and a protracted season for L. lentjan, although fewer samples were available for the last two species. Sex-specific LF and age distributions and gonad histology of L. lentjan were suggestive of a functional protogynous reproductive pattern, as observed in other lethrinids. Gonad histology indicated non-functional protogynous hermaphroditism for L. atkinsoni and L. nebulosus. The diversity of life histories among these closely related species emphasizes the difficulty in devising single management strategies appropriate for multi-species fisheries and illustrates the importance of understanding species-specific life histories to infer responses to exploitation.