Effect of macroalgal expansion and marine protected areas on coral recovery following a climatic disturbance
Wilson, SK and Graham, NAJ and Fisher, R and Robinson, J and Nash, KL and Chong-Seng, K and Polunin, NVC and Aumeeruddy, R and Quatre, R, Effect of macroalgal expansion and marine protected areas on coral recovery following a climatic disturbance, Conservation Biology, 26, (6) pp. 995-1004. ISSN 0888-8892 (2012) [Refereed Article]
Disturbance plays an important role in structuring marine ecosystems, and there is a need to understand how conservation practices, such as the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), facilitate postdisturbance recovery. We evaluated the association of MPAs, herbivorous fish biomass, substrate type, postdisturbance coral cover, and change in macroalgal cover with coral recovery on the fringing reefs of the inner Seychelle islands, where coral mortality after a 1998 bleaching event was extensive. We visually estimated benthic cover and fish biomass at 9 sites in MPAs where fishing is banned and at 12 sites where fishing is permitted in 1994, 2005, 2008, and 2011. We used analysis of variance to examine spatial and temporal variations in coral cover and generalized additive models to identify relations between coral recovery and the aforementioned factors that may promote recovery. Coral recovery occurred on all substrate types, but it was highly variable among sites and times. Between 2005 and 2011 the increase in coral cover averaged 1%/year across 21 sites, and the maximum increase was 4%/year. However, mean coral cover across the study area (14%) remained at half of 1994 levels (28%). Sites within MPAs had faster rates of coral recovery than sites in fished areas only where cover of macroalgae was low and had not increased over time. In MPAs where macroalgae cover expanded since 1998 there was no recovery. Where coral was recovering on granite reefs there was a shift in relative prevalence of colony life-form from branching to encrusting species. This simplification of reef structure may affect associated reef fauna even if predisturbance levels of coral cover are attained.