Size-structural shifts reveal intensity of exploitation in coral reef fisheries

TitleSize-structural shifts reveal intensity of exploitation in coral reef fisheries
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsZgliczynski B.J, Sandin SA
JournalEcological Indicators
Date Published2017/02
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1470-160X
Accession NumberWOS:000398334400042
Keywordsamerican-samoa; biomass; Biomass size spectra; body-size; Coral reef fishes; ecosystems; exploitation; Fish assemblages; Fisheries; food webs; indicators; management; northern line islands; pacific islands; sea fish community; spectra; Trophic groups

Fisheries exploitation represents a considerable threat to coral reef fish resources because even modest levels of extraction can alter ecological dynamics via shifts of stock size, species composition, and size-structure of the fish assemblage. Although species occupying higher trophic groups are known to suffer the majority of exploitative effects, changes in composition among lower trophic groups may be major, though are not frequently explored. Using size-based biomass spectrum analysis, we investigate the effects of fishing on the size-structure of coral reef fish assemblages spanning four geopolitical regions and determine if patterns of exploitation vary across trophic groups. Our analyses reveal striking evidence for the variety of effects fisheries exploitation can have on coral reef fish assemblages. When examining biomass spectra across the entire fish assemblage we found consistent evidence of size-specific exploitation, in which large-bodied individuals experience disproportionate reductions. The pattern was paralleled by and likely driven by, strongly size-specific reductions among top predators. In contrast, evidence of exploitation patterns was variable among lower trophic groups, in many cases including evidence of reductions across all size classes. The breadth of size classes and trophic groups that showed evidence of exploitation related positively to local human population density and diversity of fishing methods employed. Our findings highlight the complexity of coral reef fisheries and that the effects of exploitation on coral reefs can be realized throughout the entire fish assemblage, across multiple trophic groups and not solely restricted to large-bodied top-predators. Size-specific changes among fishes of lower trophic groups likely lead to altered ecological functioning of heavily exploited coral reefs. Together these findings reinforce the value of taking a multi-trophic group approach to monitoring and managing coral reef fisheries. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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