Research ArticleECOLOGY

Attenuating effects of ecosystem management on coral reefs

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Science Advances  09 May 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 5, eaao5493
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao5493


Managing diverse ecosystems is challenging because structuring drivers are often processes having diffuse impacts that attenuate from the people who were “managed” to the expected ecosystem-wide outcome. Coral reef fishes targeted for management only indirectly link to the ecosystem’s foundation (reef corals). Three successively weakening interaction tiers separate management of fishing from coral abundance. We studied 12 islands along the 700-km eastern Caribbean archipelago, comparing fished and unfished coral reefs. Fishing reduced biomass of carnivorous (snappers and groupers) and herbivorous (parrotfish and surgeonfish) fishes. We document attenuating but important effects of managing fishing, which explained 37% of variance in parrotfish abundance, 20% of variance in harmful algal abundance, and 17% of variance in juvenile coral abundance. The explained variance increased when we quantified herbivory using area-specific bite rates. Local fisheries management resulted in a 62% increase in the archipelago’s juvenile coral density, improving the ecosystem’s recovery potential from major disturbances.

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