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      Patterns and ecosystem consequences of shark declines in the ocean : Ecosystem consequences of shark declines

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          Abstract

          Whereas many land predators disappeared before their ecological roles were studied, the decline of marine apex predators is still unfolding. Large sharks in particular have experienced rapid declines over the last decades. In this study, we review the documented changes in exploited elasmobranch communities in coastal, demersal, and pelagic habitats, and synthesize the effects of sharks on their prey and wider communities. We show that the high natural diversity and abundance of sharks is vulnerable to even light fishing pressure. The decline of large predatory sharks reduces natural mortality in a range of prey, contributing to changes in abundance, distribution, and behaviour of small elasmobranchs, marine mammals, and sea turtles that have few other predators. Through direct predation and behavioural modifications, top-down effects of sharks have led to cascading changes in some coastal ecosystems. In demersal and pelagic communities, there is increasing evidence of mesopredator release, but cascading effects are more hypothetical. Here, fishing pressure on mesopredators may mask or even reverse some ecosystem effects. In conclusion, large sharks can exert strong top-down forces with the potential to shape marine communities over large spatial and temporal scales. Yet more empirical evidence is needed to test the generality of these effects throughout the ocean.

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          Most cited references 77

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          Depletion, degradation, and recovery potential of estuaries and coastal seas.

          Estuarine and coastal transformation is as old as civilization yet has dramatically accelerated over the past 150 to 300 years. Reconstructed time lines, causes, and consequences of change in 12 once diverse and productive estuaries and coastal seas worldwide show similar patterns: Human impacts have depleted >90% of formerly important species, destroyed >65% of seagrass and wetland habitat, degraded water quality, and accelerated species invasions. Twentieth-century conservation efforts achieved partial recovery of upper trophic levels but have so far failed to restore former ecosystem structure and function. Our results provide detailed historical baselines and quantitative targets for ecosystem-based management and marine conservation.
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            Cascading effects of the loss of apex predatory sharks from a coastal ocean.

            Impacts of chronic overfishing are evident in population depletions worldwide, yet indirect ecosystem effects induced by predator removal from oceanic food webs remain unpredictable. As abundances of all 11 great sharks that consume other elasmobranchs (rays, skates, and small sharks) fell over the past 35 years, 12 of 14 of these prey species increased in coastal northwest Atlantic ecosystems. Effects of this community restructuring have cascaded downward from the cownose ray, whose enhanced predation on its bay scallop prey was sufficient to terminate a century-long scallop fishery. Analogous top-down effects may be a predictable consequence of eliminating entire functional groups of predators.
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              Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the Northwest Atlantic.

              Overexploitation threatens the future of many large vertebrates. In the ocean, tunas and sea turtles are current conservation concerns because of this intense pressure. The status of most shark species, in contrast, remains uncertain. Using the largest data set in the Northwest Atlantic, we show rapid large declines in large coastal and oceanic shark populations. Scalloped hammerhead, white, and thresher sharks are each estimated to have declined by over 75% in the past 15 years. Closed-area models highlight priority areas for shark conservation, and the need to consider effort reallocation and site selection if marine reserves are to benefit multiple threatened species.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Ecology Letters
                Wiley
                1461023X
                14610248
                May 2010
                May 2010
                : no
                Article
                10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01489.x
                20528897
                © 2010

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