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A coral-algal phase shift in Mesoamerica not driven by changes in herbivorous fish abundance

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Arias-Gonzalez, JE, Fung, T, Seymour, RM, Garza-Perez, JR, Acosta-Gonzalez, G, Bozec, Y-M and Johnson, CR ORCID: 0000-0002-9511-905X 2017 , 'A coral-algal phase shift in Mesoamerica not driven by changes in herbivorous fish abundance' , PLoS One, vol. 12, no. 4 , pp. 1-17 , doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174855.

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Abstract

Coral-algal phase shifts in which coral cover declines to low levels and is replaced by algaehave often been documented on coral reefs worldwide. This has motivated coral reef managementresponses that include restriction and regulation of fishing, e.g. herbivorous fishspecies. However, there is evidence that eutrophication and sedimentation can be at leastas important as a reduction in herbivory in causing phase shifts. These threats arise fromcoastal development leading to increased nutrient and sediment loads, which stimulatealgal growth and negatively impact corals respectively. Here, we first present results of adynamic process-based model demonstrating that in addition to overharvesting of herbivorousfish, bottom-up processes have the potential to precipitate coral-algal phase shifts onMesoamerican reefs. We then provide an empirical example that exemplifies this on coralreefs off Mahahual in Mexico, where a shift from coral to algal dominance occurred over 14years, during which there was little change in herbivore biomass but considerable developmentof tourist infrastructure. Our results indicate that coastal development can compromisethe resilience of coral reefs and that watershed and coastal zone management together withthe maintenance of functional levels of fish herbivory are critical for the persistence of coralreefs in Mesoamerica.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Arias-Gonzalez, JE and Fung, T and Seymour, RM and Garza-Perez, JR and Acosta-Gonzalez, G and Bozec, Y-M and Johnson, CR
Keywords: Phase shift, coral cover, reef management, algae, reefs, Mesoamerica
Journal or Publication Title: PLoS One
Publisher: Public Library of Science
ISSN: 1932-6203
DOI / ID Number: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174855
Copyright Information:

Copyright: © 2017 Arias-GonzaÂlez et al. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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