, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 547-559
Date: 28 Jan 2012

Indirect consequences of fishing: reduction of coralline algae suppresses juvenile coral abundance

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Removing predatory fishes has effects that cascade through ecosystems via interactions between species and functional groups. In Kenyan reef lagoons, fishing-induced trophic cascades produce sea urchin-dominated grazing communities that greatly reduce the overall cover of crustose coralline algae (CCA). Certain species of CCA enhance coral recruitment by chemically inducing coral settlement. If sea urchin grazing reduces cover of settlement-inducing CCA, coral recruitment and hence juvenile coral abundance may also decline on fished reefs. To determine whether fishing-induced changes in CCA influence coral recruitment and abundance, we compared (1) CCA taxonomic compositions and (2) taxon-specific associations between CCA and juvenile corals under three fisheries management systems: closed, gear-restricted, and open-access. On fished reefs (gear-restricted and open-access), abundances of two species of settlement-inducing CCA, Hydrolithon reinboldii and H. onkodes, were half those on closed reefs. On both closed and fished reefs, juveniles of four common coral families (Poritidae, Pocilloporidae, Agariciidae, and Faviidae) were more abundant on Hydrolithon than on any other settlement substrate. Coral densities were positively correlated with Hydrolithon spp. cover and were significantly lower on fished than on closed reefs, suggesting that fishing indirectly reduces coral recruitment or juvenile success over large spatial scales via reduction in settlement-inducing CCA. Therefore, managing reefs for higher cover of settlement-inducing CCA may enhance coral recruitment or juvenile survival and help to maintain the ecological and structural stability of reefs.