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A coral-algal phase shift in Mesoamerica not driven by changes in herbivorous fish abundance


Arias-Gonzalez, JE and Fung, T and Seymour, RM and Garza-Perez, JR and Acosta-Gonzalez, G and Bozec, Y-M and Johnson, CR, A coral-algal phase shift in Mesoamerica not driven by changes in herbivorous fish abundance, PLoS One, 12, (4) Article e0174855. ISSN 1932-6203 (2017) [Refereed Article]


Copyright Statement

Copyright: © 2017 Arias-Gonza¬lez et al. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

DOI: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0174855


Coral-algal phase shifts in which coral cover declines to low levels and is replaced by algae have often been documented on coral reefs worldwide. This has motivated coral reef management responses that include restriction and regulation of fishing, e.g. herbivorous fish species. However, there is evidence that eutrophication and sedimentation can be at least as important as a reduction in herbivory in causing phase shifts. These threats arise from coastal development leading to increased nutrient and sediment loads, which stimulate algal growth and negatively impact corals respectively. Here, we first present results of a dynamic process-based model demonstrating that in addition to overharvesting of herbivorous fish, bottom-up processes have the potential to precipitate coral-algal phase shifts on Mesoamerican reefs. We then provide an empirical example that exemplifies this on coral reefs off Mahahual in Mexico, where a shift from coral to algal dominance occurred over 14 years, during which there was little change in herbivore biomass but considerable development of tourist infrastructure. Our results indicate that coastal development can compromise the resilience of coral reefs and that watershed and coastal zone management together with the maintenance of functional levels of fish herbivory are critical for the persistence of coral reefs in Mesoamerica.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Phase shift, coral cover, reef management, algae, reefs, Mesoamerica
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Adaptation to climate change
Objective Field:Ecosystem adaptation to climate change
UTAS Author:Johnson, CR (Professor Craig Johnson)
ID Code:116066
Year Published:2017
Web of Science® Times Cited:57
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2017-05-01
Last Modified:2018-04-24
Downloads:111 View Download Statistics

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