Human exploitation shapes productivity–biomass relationships on coral reefs

Morais, Renato A., Connolly, Sean R., and Bellwood, David R. (2020) Human exploitation shapes productivity–biomass relationships on coral reefs. Global Change Biology, 26 (3). pp. 1295-1305.

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Coral reef fisheries support the livelihoods of millions of people in tropical countries, despite large‐scale depletion of fish biomass. While human adaptability can help to explain the resistance of fisheries to biomass depletion, compensatory ecological mechanisms may also be involved. If this is the case, high productivity should coexist with low biomass under relatively high exploitation. Here we integrate large spatial scale empirical data analysis and a theory‐driven modelling approach to unveil the effects of human exploitation on reef fish productivity–biomass relationships. We show that differences in how productivity and biomass respond to overexploitation can decouple their relationship. As size‐selective exploitation depletes fish biomass, it triggers increased production per unit biomass, averting immediate productivity collapse in both the modelling and the empirical systems. This ‘buffering productivity’ exposes the danger of assuming resource production–biomass equivalence, but may help to explain why some biomass‐depleted fish assemblages still provide ecosystem goods under continued global fishing exploitation.

Item ID: 63747
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-2486
Keywords: buffering productivity, coral reef fisheries, Coral Triangle, ecosystem functioning, fish productivity, Great Barrier Reef, overexploitation, overfishing, size-spectrum theory, standing biomass
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Copyright Information: © 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
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A version of this publication was included as Chapter 6 of the following PhD thesis: Morais Araujo, Renato (2020) The productivity of coral reef fishes. PhD thesis, James Cook University, which is available Open Access in ResearchOnline@JCU. Please see the Related URLs for access.

Funders: James Cook University (JCU), Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation (LIRRF), Ocean Geographic Society, Australian Research Council (ARC)
Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2020 04:19
FoR Codes: 30 AGRICULTURAL, VETERINARY AND FOOD SCIENCES > 3005 Fisheries sciences > 300505 Fisheries management @ 33%
31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 33%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410203 Ecosystem function @ 34%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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