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


Hughes, TP and Rodrigues, MJ and Bellwood, DR and Ceccarelli, D and Hoegh-Guldberg, O and McCook, L and Moltschaniwskyj, NA and Pratchett, MS and Steneck, RS and Willis, B, Phase shifts, herbivory, and the resilience of coral reefs to climate change, Current Biology, 17, (4) pp. 360-365. ISSN 0960-9822 (2007) [Refereed Article]

DOI: doi:10.1016/j.cub.2006.12.049


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 [1-9]. 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. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
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:Social impacts of climate change and variability
UTAS Author:Moltschaniwskyj, NA (Associate Professor Natalie Moltschaniwskyj)
ID Code:50549
Year Published:2007
Web of Science® Times Cited:1018
Deposited By:NC Marine Conservation and Resource Sustainability
Deposited On:2007-08-01
Last Modified:2011-09-30

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