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      Baselines and Degradation of Coral Reefs in the Northern Line Islands

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          Abstract

          Effective conservation requires rigorous baselines of pristine conditions to assess the impacts of human activities and to evaluate the efficacy of management. Most coral reefs are moderately to severely degraded by local human activities such as fishing and pollution as well as global change, hence it is difficult to separate local from global effects. To this end, we surveyed coral reefs on uninhabited atolls in the northern Line Islands to provide a baseline of reef community structure, and on increasingly populated atolls to document changes associated with human activities. We found that top predators and reef-building organisms dominated unpopulated Kingman and Palmyra, while small planktivorous fishes and fleshy algae dominated the populated atolls of Tabuaeran and Kiritimati. Sharks and other top predators overwhelmed the fish assemblages on Kingman and Palmyra so that the biomass pyramid was inverted (top-heavy). In contrast, the biomass pyramid at Tabuaeran and Kiritimati exhibited the typical bottom-heavy pattern. Reefs without people exhibited less coral disease and greater coral recruitment relative to more inhabited reefs. Thus, protection from overfishing and pollution appears to increase the resilience of reef ecosystems to the effects of global warming.

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          Most cited references 85

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          Diversity in tropical rain forests and coral reefs.

          The commonly observed high diversity of trees in tropical rain forests and corals on tropical reefs is a nonequilibrium state which, if not disturbed further, will progress toward a low-diversity equilibrium community. This may not happen if gradual changes in climate favor different species. If equilibrium is reached, a lesser degree of diversity may be sustained by niche diversification or by a compensatory mortality that favors inferior competitors. However, tropical forests and reefs are subject to severe disturbances often enough that equilibrium may never be attained.
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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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              HUMAN ALTERATION OF THE GLOBAL NITROGEN CYCLE: SOURCES AND CONSEQUENCES

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: Academic Editor
                Journal
                PLoS ONE
                plos
                plosone
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1932-6203
                2008
                27 February 2008
                : 3
                : 2
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, United States of America
                [2 ]National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California, United States of America
                [3 ]National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America
                [4 ]Department of Biology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, United States of America
                [5 ]Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, United States of America
                [6 ]National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Ocean Service, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science-Biogeography Team and The Oceanic Institute, Waimanalo, Hawaii, United States of America
                [7 ]Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, United States of America
                [8 ]Pacific/Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America
                [9 ]CORDIO East Africa, Mombasa, Kenya
                [10 ]National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research and Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America
                [11 ]Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Balboa, Republic of Panama
                [12 ]Centre d'Estudis Avançats de Blanes, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Blanes, Spain
                Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, India
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: JJ NK GP ES JS SS FR OP ED AF JM DO. Performed the experiments: GP ES JS SS FR ED OP ED AF MM JM DO. Analyzed the data: ES JS SS FR ED OP ED AF JM DO. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: FR SD TK MR SW RS. Wrote the paper: JJ NK ES JS SS.

                Article
                07-PONE-RA-03163
                10.1371/journal.pone.0001548
                2244711
                18301734
                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Public Domain declaration which stipulates that, once placed in the public domain, this work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose.
                Page count
                Pages: 11
                Categories
                Research Article
                Ecology/Community Ecology and Biodiversity
                Ecology/Conservation and Restoration Ecology
                Ecology/Marine and Freshwater Ecology
                Ecology/Community Ecology and Biodiversity
                Ecology/Conservation and Restoration Ecology
                Ecology/Marine and Freshwater Ecology

                Uncategorized

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