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      Fishery-Independent Data Reveal Negative Effect of Human Population Density on Caribbean Predatory Fish Communities



      PLoS ONE

      Public Library of Science

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          Understanding the current status of predatory fish communities, and the effects fishing has on them, is vitally important information for management. However, data are often insufficient at region-wide scales to assess the effects of extraction in coral reef ecosystems of developing nations.

          Methodology/Principal Findings

          Here, I overcome this difficulty by using a publicly accessible, fisheries-independent database to provide a broad scale, comprehensive analysis of human impacts on predatory reef fish communities across the greater Caribbean region. Specifically, this study analyzed presence and diversity of predatory reef fishes over a gradient of human population density. Across the region, as human population density increases, presence of large-bodied fishes declines, and fish communities become dominated by a few smaller-bodied species.


          Complete disappearance of several large-bodied fishes indicates ecological and local extinctions have occurred in some densely populated areas. These findings fill a fundamentally important gap in our knowledge of the ecosystem effects of artisanal fisheries in developing nations, and provide support for multiple approaches to data collection where they are commonly unavailable.

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          Most cited references 85

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          Fishing down marine food webs

          The mean trophic level of the species groups reported in Food and Agricultural Organization global fisheries statistics declined from 1950 to 1994. This reflects a gradual transition in landings from long-lived, high trophic level, piscivorous bottom fish toward short-lived, low trophic level invertebrates and planktivorous pelagic fish. This effect, also found to be occurring in inland fisheries, is most pronounced in the Northern Hemisphere. Fishing down food webs (that is, at lower trophic levels) leads at first to increasing catches, then to a phase transition associated with stagnating or declining catches. These results indicate that present exploitation patterns are unsustainable.
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            Predicting ecological consequences of marine top predator declines.

            Recent studies document unprecedented declines in marine top predators that can initiate trophic cascades. Predicting the wider ecological consequences of these declines requires understanding how predators influence communities by inflicting mortality on prey and inducing behavioral modifications (risk effects). Both mechanisms are important in marine communities, and a sole focus on the effects of predator-inflicted mortality might severely underestimate the importance of predators. We outline direct and indirect consequences of marine predator declines and propose an integrated predictive framework that includes risk effects, which appear to be strongest for long-lived prey species and when resources are abundant. We conclude that marine predators should be managed for the maintenance of both density- and risk-driven ecological processes, and not demographic persistence alone.
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              New paradigms for supporting the resilience of marine ecosystems.

              Resource managers and scientists from disparate disciplines are rising to the challenge of understanding and moderating human impacts on marine ecosystems. Traditional barriers to communication between marine ecologists, fisheries biologists, social scientists and economists are beginning to break down, and the distinction between applied and basic research is fading. These ongoing trends arise, in part, from an increasing awareness of the profound influence of people on the functioning of all marine ecosystems, an increased focus on spatial and temporal scale, and a renewed assessment of the role of biodiversity in the sustainability of ecosystem goods and services upon which human societies depend. Here, we highlight the emergence of a complex systems approach for sustaining and repairing marine ecosystems, linking ecological resilience to governance structures, economics and society.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                6 May 2009
                : 4
                : 5
                Department of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, United States of America
                University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States of America
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: CDS. Performed the experiments: CDS. Analyzed the data: CDS. Wrote the paper: CDS.


                Current address: Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory, St. Teresa, Florida, United States of America

                Stallings. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 9
                Research Article
                Ecology/Community Ecology and Biodiversity
                Ecology/Conservation and Restoration Ecology
                Ecology/Global Change Ecology
                Ecology/Marine and Freshwater Ecology
                Ecology/Population Ecology
                Marine and Aquatic Sciences
                Marine and Aquatic Sciences/Conservation Science
                Marine and Aquatic Sciences/Ecology
                Marine and Aquatic Sciences/Fisheries



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