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Bright spots among the world’s coral reefs


Cinner, JE and Huchery, C and MacNeil, MA and Graham, NAJ and McClanahan, TR and Maina, J and Maire, E and Kittinger, JN and Hicks, CC and Mora, C and Allison, EH and D'Agata, SD and Hoey, A and Feary, DA and Crowder, L and Williams, ID and Kulbicki, M and Vigliola, L and Wantiez, L and Edgar, G and Stuart-Smith, RD and Sandin, SA and Green, AL and Hardt, MJ and Beger, M and Friedlander, A and Campbell, SJ and Holmes, KE and Wilson, SK and Brokovich, E and Brooks, AJ and Cruz-Motta, JJ and Booth, DJ and Chabanet, P and Gough, C and Tupper, M and Ferse, SCA and Sumaila, UR and Mouillot, D, Bright spots among the world's coral reefs, Nature, 535, (7612) pp. 416-432. ISSN 0028-0836 (2016) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

© 2016 Macmillan Publishers

DOI: doi:10.1038/nature18607


Ongoing declines in the structure and function of the world’s coral reefs require novel approaches to sustain these ecosystems and the millions of people who depend on them. A presently unexplored approach that draws on theory and practice in human health and rural development is to systematically identify and learn from the ‘outliers’ - places where ecosystems are substantially better (‘bright spots’) or worse (‘dark spots’) than expected, given the environmental conditions and socioeconomic drivers they are exposed to. Here we compile data from more than 2,500 reefs worldwide and develop a Bayesian hierarchical model to generate expectations of how standing stocks of reef fish biomass are related to 18 socioeconomic drivers and environmental conditions. We identify 15 bright spots and 35 dark spots among our global survey of coral reefs, defined as sites that have biomass levels more than two standard deviations from expectations. Importantly, bright spots are not simply comprised of remote areas with low fishing pressure; they include localities where human populations and use of ecosystem resources is high, potentially providing insights into how communities have successfully confronted strong drivers of change. Conversely, dark spots are not necessarily the sites with the lowest absolute biomass and even include some remote, uninhabited locations often considered near pristine. We surveyed local experts about social, institutional, and environmental conditions at these sites to reveal that bright spots are characterized by strong sociocultural institutions such as customary taboos and marine tenure, high levels of local engagement in management, high dependence on marine resources, and beneficial environmental conditions such as deep-water refuges. Alternatively, dark spots are characterized by intensive capture and storage technology and a recent history of environmental shocks. Our results suggest that investments in strengthening fisheries governance, particularly aspects such as participation and property rights, could facilitate innovative conservation actions that help communities defy expectations of global reef degradation.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Reef Life Survey, marine biodiversity, citizen science, fish biomass
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems
UTAS Author:Edgar, G (Professor Graham Edgar)
UTAS Author:Stuart-Smith, RD (Dr Rick Stuart-Smith)
ID Code:109431
Year Published:2016
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (LP100200122)
Web of Science® Times Cited:305
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2016-06-16
Last Modified:2018-04-11

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