Beyond the loss of species richness, human activities may also deplete the breadth of evolutionary history (phylogenetic diversity) and the diversity of roles (functional diversity) carried out by species within communities, two overlooked components of biodiversity. Both are, however, essential to sustain ecosystem functioning and the associated provision of ecosystem services, particularly under fluctuating environmental conditions. We quantified the effect of human activities on the taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversity of fish communities in coral reefs, while teasing apart the influence of biogeography and habitat along a gradient of human pressure across the Pacific Ocean. We detected nonlinear relationships with significant breaking points in the impact of human population density on phylogenetic and functional diversity of parrotfishes, at 25 and 15 inhabitants/km(2), respectively, while parrotfish species richness decreased linearly along the same population gradient. Over the whole range, species richness decreased by 11.7%, while phylogenetic and functional diversity dropped by 35.8% and 46.6%, respectively. Our results call for caution when using species richness as a benchmark for measuring the status of ecosystems since it appears to be less responsive to variation in human population densities than its phylogenetic and functional counterparts, potentially imperiling the functioning of coral reef ecosystems.
Reef fishes that exhibit predictable aggregating behaviour are often considered vulnerable to overexploitation. However, fisher knowledge of this behaviour is often heterogeneous and, coupled with socioeconomic factors that constrain demand for or access to aggregated fish, will influence susceptibility to fishing. At two case study locations in Papua New Guinea, Ahus and Karkar islands, we conducted interview-based surveys to examine how local context influenced heterogeneity in knowledge of fish aggregations. We then explored the role of fisher knowledge in conferring susceptibility to fishing relative to socioeconomic drivers of fishing effort. Local heterogeneity in knowledge of aggregating behaviour differed between our case studies. At Ahus, variable access rights among fishers and genders to the main habitats were sources of heterogeneity in knowledge. By contrast, knowledge was more homogenous at Karkar and the sole source of variation was gear type. Differences between locations in the susceptibility of aggregations to fishing depended primarily on socioeconomic drivers of fishing effort rather than catchability. While Ahus fishers were knowledgeable of fish aggregations and used more selective gears, Karkar fishers were less constrained by tenure in their access to aggregation habitat. However, fishing effort was greater at Ahus and likely related to high dependency on fishing, greater access to provincial capital markets than Karkar and a weakening of customary management. Moreover, highly efficient fishing techniques have emerged at Ahus to exploit the non-reproductive aggregating behaviour of target species. Understanding how knowledge is structured within fishing communities and its relation to socioeconomic drivers of fishing effort is important if customary practices for conservation, such as tambu areas, are to be supported. The findings of this study call for a holistic approach to assessing the risks posed to reef fish aggregations by fishing, grounded in the principals of fisheries science and emerging social-ecological thinking.
There is an increasing need to evaluate the links between the social and ecological dimensions of human vulnerability to climate change. We use an empirical case study of 12 coastal communities and associated coral reefs in Kenya to assess and compare five key ecological and social components of the vulnerability of coastal social-ecological systems to temperature induced coral mortality [specifically: 1) environmental exposure; 2) ecological sensitivity; 3) ecological recovery potential; 4) social sensitivity; and 5) social adaptive capacity]. We examined whether ecological components of vulnerability varied between government operated no-take marine reserves, community-based reserves, and openly fished areas. Overall, fished sites were marginally more vulnerable than community-based and government marine reserves. Social sensitivity was indicated by the occupational composition of each community, including the importance of fishing relative to other occupations, as well as the susceptibility of different fishing gears to the effects of coral bleaching on target fish species. Key components of social adaptive capacity varied considerably between the communities. Together, these results show that different communities have relative strengths and weaknesses in terms of social-ecological vulnerability to climate change.
Sustainably managing ecosystems is challenging, especially for complex systems such as coral reefs. This study develops critical reference points for sustainable management by using a large empirical dataset on the coral reefs of the western Indian Ocean to investigate associations between levels of target fish biomass (as an indicator of fishing intensity) and eight metrics of ecosystem state. These eight ecological metrics each exhibited specific thresholds along a continuum of fishable biomass ranging from heavily fished sites to old fisheries closures. Three thresholds lay above and five below a hypothesized window of fishable biomass expected to produce a maximum multispecies sustainable yield (B(MMSY)). Evaluating three management systems in nine countries, we found that unregulated fisheries often operate below the B(MMSY), whereas fisheries closures and, less frequently, gear-restricted fisheries were within or above this window. These findings provide tangible management targets for multispecies coral reef fisheries and highlight key tradeoffs required to achieve different fisheries and conservation goals.
Prey flight decisions in response to predation risk are increasingly being considered in conservation and management decisions in the terrestrial realm, but are rarely considered in marine systems. This field-based study investigated how the behavioral response of coral reef fish families varied along a gradient of subsistence fishing pressure in Papua New Guinea. Specifically, we examined how fishing pressure was related to pre-flight behavior and flight initiation distance (FID), and whether FID was influenced by body size (centimeters total length), group size (including both con- and hetero-specific individuals), or life-history phase. Fishing pressure was positively associated with higher FID, but only in families that were primarily targeted by spear guns. Among these families, there were variable responses in FID; some families showed increased FID monotonically with fishing pressure, while others showed increased FID only at the highest levels of fishing pressure. Body size was more significant in varying FID at higher levels of fishing pressure. Although family-level differences in pre-flight behavior were reported, such behavior showed low concordance with fishing pressure. FID shows promise as a tool by which compliance and effectiveness of management of reef fisheries can be assessed.
Difficulties in scaling up theoretical and experimental results have raised controversy over the consequences of biodiversity loss for the functioning of natural ecosystems. Using a global survey of reef fish assemblages, we show that in contrast to previous theoretical and experimental studies, ecosystem functioning (as measured by standing biomass) scales in a non-saturating manner with biodiversity (as measured by species and functional richness) in this ecosystem. Our field study also shows a significant and negative interaction between human population density and biodiversity on ecosystem functioning (i.e., for the same human density there were larger reductions in standing biomass at more diverse reefs). Human effects were found to be related to fishing, coastal development, and land use stressors, and currently affect over 75% of the worlds coral reefs. Our results indicate that the consequences of biodiversity loss in coral reefs have been considerably underestimated based on existing knowledge and that reef fish assemblages, particularly the most diverse, are greatly vulnerable to the expansion and intensity of anthropogenic stressors in coastal areas.
Customary management systems (i.e., management systems that limit the use of marine resources), such as rotational fisheries closures, can limit harvest of resources. Nevertheless, the explicit goals of customary management are often to influence fish behavior (in particular flight distance, i.e., distance at which an organism begins to flee an approaching threat), rather than fish abundance. We explored whether the flight distance of reef fishes targeted by local artisanal fishers differed between a customary closure and fished reefs. We also examined whether flight distance of these species affected fishing success and accuracy of underwater visual census (UVC) between customary closed areas and areas open to fishing. Several species demonstrated significant differences in flight distance between areas, indicating that fishing activity may increase flight distance. These relatively long flight distances mean that in fished areas most target species may stay out of the range of spear fishers. In addition, mean flight distances for all species both inside and outside the customary-closure area were substantially smaller than the observation distance of an observer conducting a belt-transect UVC (mean [SE]= 8.8 m [0.48]). For targeted species that showed little ability to evade spear fishers, customary closures may be a vital management technique. Our results show that customary closures can have a substantial, positive effect on resource availability and that conventional UVC techniques may be insensitive to changes in flight behavior of fishes associated with fishing. We argue that short, periodic openings of customary closures may allow the health of the fish community to be maintained and local fishers to effectively harvest fishes.
Global climate change has the potential to substantially alter the production and community structure of marine fisheries and modify the ongoing impacts of fishing. Fish community composition is already changing in some tropical, temperate and polar ecosystems, where local combinations of warming trends and higher environmental variation anticipate the changes likely to occur more widely over coming decades. Using case studies from the Western Indian Ocean, the North Sea and the Bering Sea, we contextualize the direct and indirect effects of climate change on production and biodiversity and, in turn, on the social and economic aspects of marine fisheries. Climate warming is expected to lead to (i) yield and species losses in tropical reef fisheries, driven primarily by habitat loss; (ii) community turnover in temperate fisheries, owing to the arrival and increasing dominance of warm-water species as well as the reduced dominance and departure of cold-water species; and (iii) increased diversity and yield in Arctic fisheries, arising from invasions of southern species and increased primary production resulting from ice-free summer conditions. How societies deal with such changes will depend largely on their capacity to adapt--to plan and implement effective responses to change--a process heavily influenced by social, economic, political and cultural conditions.
Diverse livelihood portfolios are frequently viewed as a critical component of household economies in developing countries. Within the context of natural resources governance in particular, the capacity of individual households to engage in multiple occupations has been shown to influence important issues such as whether fishers would exit a declining fishery, how people react to policy, the types of resource management systems that may be applicable, and other decisions about natural resource use.
Marine reserves are increasingly recognized as having linked social and ecological dynamics. This study investigates how the ecological performance of 56 marine reserves throughout the Philippines, Caribbean, and Western Indian Ocean (WIO) is related to both reserve design features and the socioeconomic characteristics in associated coastal communities. Ecological performance was measured as fish biomass in the reserve relative to nearby areas. Of the socioeconomic variables considered, human population density and compliance with reserve rules had the strongest effects on fish biomass, but the effects of these variables were region specific. Relationships between population density and the reserve effect on fish biomass were negative in the Caribbean, positive in the WIO, and not detectable in the Philippines. Differing associations between population density and reserve effectiveness defy simple explanation but may depend on human migration to effective reserves, depletion of fish stocks outside reserves, or other social factors that change with population density. Higher levels of compliance reported by resource users was related to higher fish biomass in reserves compared with outside, but this relationship was only statistically significant in the Caribbean. A heuristic model based on correlations between social, cultural, political, economic, and other contextual conditions in 127 marine reserves showed that high levels of compliance with reserve rules were related to complex social interactions rather than simply to enforcement of reserve rules. Comparative research of this type is important for uncovering the complexities surrounding human dimensions of marine reserves and improving reserve management.
The ecosystem goods and services provided by coral reefs are critical to the social and economic welfare of hundreds of millions of people, overwhelmingly in developing countries . Widespread reef degradation is severely eroding these goods and services, but the socioeconomic factors shaping the ways that societies use coral reefs are poorly understood . We examine relationships between human population density, a multidimensional index of socioeconomic development, reef complexity, and the condition of coral reef fish populations in five countries across the Indian Ocean. In fished sites, fish biomass was negatively related to human population density, but it was best explained by reef complexity and a U-shaped relationship with socioeconomic development. The biomass of reef fishes was four times lower at locations with intermediate levels of economic development than at locations with both low and high development. In contrast, average biomass inside fishery closures was three times higher than in fished sites and was not associated with socioeconomic development. Sustaining coral reef fisheries requires an integrated approach that uses tools such as protected areas to quickly build reef resources while also building capacities and capital in societies over longer time frames to address the complex underlying causes of reef degradation.
The effectiveness of marine protected areas depends largely on whether people comply with the rules. We quantified temporal changes in benthic composition, reef fish biomass, and fishing effort among marine park zones (including no-take areas) to assess levels of compliance following the 2005 rezoning of the government-controlled Karimunjawa National Park (KNP), Indonesia. Four years after the rezoning awareness of fishing regulations was high amongst local fishers, ranging from 79.5±7.9 (SE) % for spatial restrictions to 97.7±1.2% for bans on the use of poisons. Despite this high awareness and strong compliance with gear restrictions, compliance with spatial restrictions was weak. In the four years following the rezoning reef fish biomass declined across all zones within KNP, with >50% reduction within the no-take Core and Protection Zones. These declines were primarily driven by decreases in the biomass of groups targeted by local fishers; planktivores, herbivores, piscivores, and invertivores. These declines in fish biomass were not driven by changes in habitat quality; coral cover increased in all zones, possibly as a result of a shift in fishing gears from those which can damage reefs (i.e., nets) to those which cause little direct damage (i.e., handlines and spears). Direct observations of fishing activities in 2009 revealed there was limited variation in fishing effort between zones in which fishing was allowed or prohibited. The apparent willingness of the KNP communities to comply with gear restrictions, but not spatial restrictions is difficult to explain and highlights the complexities of the social and economic dynamics that influence the ecological success of marine protected areas. Clearly the increased and high awareness of fishery restrictions following the rezoning is a positive step. The challenge now is to understand and foster the conditions that may facilitate compliance with spatial restrictions within KNP and marine parks worldwide.
Spillover of adult fish biomass is an expected benefit from no-take marine reserves to adjacent fisheries. Here, we show fisher-naïve behaviour in reef fishes also spills over from marine reserves, potentially increasing access to fishery benefits by making fishes more susceptible to spearguns. The distance at which two targeted families of fishes began to flee a potential fisher [flight initiation distance (FID)] was lower inside reserves than in fished areas, and this reduction extended outside reserve boundaries. Reduced FID persisted further outside reserves than increases in fish biomass. This finding could help increase stakeholder support for marine reserves and improve current models of spillover by informing estimates for spatial changes in catchability. Behavioural changes of fish could help explain differences between underwater visual census and catch data in quantifying the spatial extent of spillover from marine reserves, and should be considered in the management of adjacent fisheries.
Coral reef fisheries support the livelihoods of millions of people but have been severely and negatively affected by anthropogenic activities. We conducted a systematic review of published data on the biomass of coral reef fishes to explore how the condition of reef fisheries is related to the density of local human populations, proximity of the reef to markets, and key environmental variables (including broad geomorphologic reef type, reef area, and net productivity). When only population density and environmental covariates were considered, high variability in fisheries conditions at low human population densities resulted in relatively weak explanatory models. The presence or absence of human settlements, habitat type, and distance to fish markets provided a much stronger explanatory model for the condition of reef fisheries. Fish biomass remained relatively low within 14 km of markets, then biomass increased exponentially as distance from reefs to markets increased. Our results suggest the need for an increased science and policy focus on markets as both a key driver of the condition of reef fisheries and a potential source of solutions.
In an effort to deliver better outcomes for people and the ecosystems they depend on, many governments and civil society groups are engaging natural resource users in collaborative management arrangements (frequently called comanagement). However, there are few empirical studies demonstrating the social and institutional conditions conducive to successful comanagement outcomes, especially in small-scale fisheries. Here, we evaluate 42 comanagement arrangements across five countries and show that: (i) comanagement is largely successful at meeting social and ecological goals; (ii) comanagement tends to benefit wealthier resource users; (iii) resource overexploitation is most strongly influenced by market access and users dependence on resources; and (iv) institutional characteristics strongly influence livelihood and compliance outcomes, yet have little effect on ecological conditions.
Globally, fisheries are challenged by the combined impacts of overfishing, degradation of ecosystems and impacts of climate change, while fisheries livelihoods are further pressured by conservation policy imperatives. Fishers adaptive responses to these pressures, such as exiting from a fishery to pursue alternative livelihoods, determine their own vulnerability, as well as the potential for reducing fishing effort and sustaining fisheries. The willingness and ability to make particular adaptations in response to change, such as exiting from a declining fishery, is influenced by economic, cultural and institutional factors operating at scales from individual fishers to national economies. Previous studies of exit from fisheries at single or few sites, offer limited insight into the relative importance of individual and larger-scale social and economic factors. We asked 599 fishers how they would respond to hypothetical scenarios of catch declines in 28 sites in five western Indian Ocean countries. We investigated how socioeconomic variables at the individual-, household- and site-scale affected whether they would exit fisheries. Site-level factors had the greatest influence on readiness to exit, but these relationships were contrary to common predictions. Specifically, higher levels of infrastructure development and economic vitality - expected to promote exit from fisheries - were associated with less readiness to exit. This may be due to site level histories of exit from fisheries, greater specialisation of fishing households, or higher rewards from fishing in more economically developed sites due to technology, market access, catch value and government subsidies. At the individual and household scale, fishers from households with more livelihood activities, and fishers with lower catch value were more willing to exit. These results demonstrate empirically how adaptive responses to change are influenced by factors at multiple scales, and highlight the importance of understanding natural resource-based livelihoods in the context of the wider economy and society.
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