Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

Recent Region-wide Declines in Caribbean Reef Fish Abundance


Michelle J. Paddack, Simon Fraser University - Canada; University of East Anglia - United Kingdom
John D. Reynolds, Simon Fraser University - Canada
Consuelo Aguilar, Universidad de La Habana - Cuba
Richard S. Appeldoorn, University of Puerto Rico - MayaguezFollow
James Beets, University of Hawaii - Hilo
Edward W. Burkett, University of Wisconsin - Superior
Paul M. Chittaro, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Kristen Clarke, University of the West Indies - Mona
Rene Esteves, University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez
Ana C. Fonseca, Universidad de Costa Rica
Graham E. Forrester, University of Rhode Island
Alan M. Friedlander, University of Hawaii
Jorge Garcia-Sais, University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez
Gaspar Gonzalez-Sanson, Universidad de La Habana - Cuba
Lance K. B. Jordan, Nova Southeastern University
David B. McClellan, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Margaret W. Miller, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Philip P. Molloy, Simon Fraser University - Canada
Peter J. Mumby, University of Exeter - United Kingdom
Ivan Nagelkerken, Radboud University Nijmegen - The Netherlands
Michael Nemeth, University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez
Raul Navas-Camacho, Instituto de Investigaciónes Marinas y Costeras - Colombia
Joanna Pitt, Bermuda Government
Nicholas V.C. Polunin, University of Newcastle - United Kingdom
Maria Catalina Reyes-Nivia, Instituto de Investigaciónes Marinas y Costeras - Colombia; University of Amsterdam - The Netherlands
D. Ross Robertson, Smithsonian Institution
Alberto Rodriguez-Ramirez, Instituto de Investigaciónes Marinas y Costeras - Colombia
Eva Salas, Universidad de Costa Rica
Struan R. Smith, Georgia State University
Richard E. Spieler, Nova Southeastern UniversityFollow
Mark A. Steele, California State University - Northridge
Ivor D. Williams, Hawaii Cooperative Fishery Research Unit; Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources
Clare L. Wormald, California State University - Northridge
Andrew R. Watkinson, University of East Anglia
Isabelle M. Cote, Simon Fraser University

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Profound ecological changes are occurring on coral reefs throughout the tropics, with marked coral cover losses and concomitant algal increases, particularly in the Caribbean region. Historical declines in the abundance of large Caribbean reef fishes likely reflect centuries of overexploitation. However, effects of drastic recent degradation of reef habitats on reef fish assemblages have yet to be established. By using meta-analysis, we analyzed time series of reef fish density obtained from 48 studies that include 318 reefs across the Caribbean and span the time period 1955–2007. Our analyses show that overall reef fish density has been declining significantly for more than a decade, at rates that are consistent across all subregions of the Caribbean basin (2.7% to 6.0% loss per year) and in three of six trophic groups. Changes in fish density over the past half-century are modest relative to concurrent changes in benthic cover on Caribbean reefs. However, the recent significant decline in overall fish abundance and its consistency across several trophic groups and among both fished and nonfished species indicate that Caribbean fishes have begun to respond negatively to habitat degradation.


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