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Phase shifts, herbivory, and the resilience of coral reefs to climate change


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Hughes, TP, Willis, B, Rodrigues, MJ, Bellwood, DR, Ceccarelli, D, Hoegh-Guldberg, O, McCook, L, Moltschaniwskyj, NA, Pratchett, MS and Steneck, RS 2007 , 'Phase shifts, herbivory, and the resilience of coral reefs to climate change' , Current Biology, vol. 17, no. 4 , pp. 360-365 , doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.12.049.

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Many coral reefs worldwide have undergone phase
shifts to alternate, degraded assemblages because of
the combined effects of overfishing, declining water
quality, and the direct and indirect impacts of climate
change [1–9]. Here, we experimentally manipulated
the density of large herbivorous fishes to test their
influence on the resilience of coral assemblages in
the aftermath of regional-scale bleaching in 1998, the
largest coral mortality event recorded to date. The experiment
was undertaken on the Great Barrier Reef,
within a no-fishing reserve where coral abundances
and diversity had been sharply reduced by bleaching
[10]. In control areas, where fishes were abundant,
algal abundance remained low, whereas coral cover
almost doubled (to 20%) over a 3 year period, primarily
because of recruitment of species that had been locally
extirpated by bleaching. In contrast, exclusion of large
herbivorous fishes caused a dramatic explosion of
macroalgae, which suppressed the fecundity, recruitment,
and survival of corals. Consequently, management
of fish stocks is a key component in preventing
phase shifts andmanaging reef resilience. Importantly,
local stewardship of fishing effort is a tractable goal for
conservation of reefs, and this local action can also
provide some insurance against larger-scale disturbances
such as mass bleaching, which are impractical
to manage directly.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Hughes, TP and Willis, B and Rodrigues, MJ and Bellwood, DR and Ceccarelli, D and Hoegh-Guldberg, O and McCook, L and Moltschaniwskyj, NA and Pratchett, MS and Steneck, RS
Journal or Publication Title: Current Biology
Publisher: Cell Press
ISSN: 0960-9822
DOI / ID Number: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.12.049
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