Phase shifts, herbivory, and the resilience of coral reefs to climate change

Hughes, Terence P., Rodrigues, Maria J., Bellwood, David R., Ceccarelli, Daniela, Hoegh-Guldberg, Ove, McCook, Laurence, Moltschaniwskyj, Natalie, Pratchett, Morgan S., Steneck, Robert S., and Willis, Bette (2007) Phase shifts, herbivory, and the resilience of coral reefs to climate change. Current Biology, 17 (4). pp. 360-365.

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Abstract

Many coral reefs worldwide have undergone phase shifts to alternate, degraded assemblages because of the combined effects of overfishing, declining water quality, and the direct and indirect impacts of climate change [1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9]. Here, we experimentally manipulated the density of large herbivorous fishes to test their influence on the resilience of coral assemblages in the aftermath of regional-scale bleaching in 1998, the largest coral mortality event recorded to date. The experiment was undertaken on the Great Barrier Reef, within a no-fishing reserve where coral abundances and diversity had been sharply reduced by bleaching [10]. In control areas, where fishes were abundant, algal abundance remained low, whereas coral cover almost doubled (to 20%) over a 3 year period, primarily because of recruitment of species that had been locally extirpated by bleaching. In contrast, exclusion of large herbivorous fishes caused a dramatic explosion of macroalgae, which suppressed the fecundity, recruitment, and survival of corals. Consequently, management of fish stocks is a key component in preventing phase shifts and managing reef resilience. Importantly, local stewardship of fishing effort is a tractable goal for conservation of reefs, and this local action can also provide some insurance against larger-scale disturbances such as mass bleaching, which are impractical to manage directly.

Item ID: 2441
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: coral reefs; degraded assemblages; overfishing; bleaching; species
ISSN: 1879-0445
Date Deposited: 22 Jul 2009 00:32
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9613 Remnant Vegetation and Protected Conservation Areas > 961303 Protected Conservation Areas in Marine Environments @ 34%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 33%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960508 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Mining Environments @ 33%
Citation Count from Web of Science Web of Science 291
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