The effect of coral restoration on Caribbean reef fish communities
The Caribbean has seen a dramatic loss of coral over the last 30 years due to direct and indirect anthropogenic factors, causing a decrease in reef three-dimensional complexity and fish abundance and diversity. Restoration practices, such as outplanting coral colonies onto degraded reefs, are increasingly used to revive reef ecosystems to preserve fisheries, tourism, and ecosystem functions, which are currently valued at $375 billion globally. However, few studies have examined whether coral restoration and the consequent addition of structural complexity can restore reef ecosystems. Thus, this study aims to better understand early fish community dynamics following restoration using Acropora cervicornis, a major reef building coral and focus species for restoration that has experienced a greater than 80% drop in cover since 1980. To examine fish dynamics after restoration, surveys of fish, environmental conditions, benthic seafloor characteristics, and rugosity were conducted on outplanted plots and control plots without outplants. Surveys were conducted off the north shore of St. Croix, USVI (17°46′15.0″N, 64°49′03.8″W) from May 30, 2016 to August 4, 2016, and on December 28, 2016, and January 4, 2017. Within a week of outplanting, fish abundance was significantly higher in experimental plots compared to controls. After outplanting, there was also an increase in fish species richness and a significant shift in fish community composition over time. These results demonstrate the early stages of fish colonization after outplanting A. cervicornis, providing insight into how restoration can cause rapid change in fish abundance, richness, and community composition.
We gratefully acknowledge support from the Harvard College Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, Harvard University Center for the Environment, and Museum of Comparative Zoology to AHO. Additional support from the Marine Conservation Action Fund to RDR is also gratefully acknowledged. This work was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship of the National Science Foundation (#1402447) to JPN. We thank D. Harrington, M. Parzen, and J. Vu for statistical advice, F. Carnes for ArcMap advice. We thank the Nature Conservancy’s St. Croix team, K.A. Lewis, C. Slade and L. Terry for providing resources and coral nurseries for outplants, and S. Schleier for aiding with the study design and providing access to research plots. We are grateful to L. Kaufman for helpful discussions of the data. We thank two anonymous reviewers for valuable suggestions. Thanks to our many volunteer divers, C. Boudin, A. Chilcote, P. Diyar, K. Drummond, M. Flowers, M. Gapen, J. Gay, L. Hamilton, J. Hinrichson, M. Hocker, T. Johnson, M. Kennedy, J. Levin, M. Opel, N. Pelletier, A. Resca, M. Rinkevich, B. Ruth, S. Slade, P. Stewart, L. Terry, N. Terry, and P. Walsh, without whom this study would not have been possible.
This study was conceived and designed by AHO, JPN, and RDR; data were collected by AHO and analyzed by AHO and JPN. Manuscript was written by AHO, JPN, RDR, and CMC.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
All local, national, and international regulations and conventions, as well as normal scientific ethical practices, have been respected.
- Agisoft LLC (2016) AgiSoft PhotoScan Professional (Version 1.0. 4) AgiSoft LLCGoogle Scholar
- Aronson R, Bruckner A, Moore J, Precht B, Weil E (2008) Acropora cervicornis. In: IUCN red list of threatened species (IUCN 2008), Version 2008. http://www.iucnredlist.org. Accessed 26 Oct 2017
- Barton JA, Willis BL, Hutson KS (2015) Coral propagation: a review of techniques for ornamental trade and reef restoration. Rev Aquac 9:1–19Google Scholar
- Böhlke JE, Chaplin CC (1993) Fishes of the Bahamas and adjacent tropical waters. University of Texas Press, AustinGoogle Scholar
- Bohnsack JA, Sutherland DL (1985) Artificial reef research: a review with recommendations for future priorities. Bull Mar Sci 37:11–39Google Scholar
- Faith DP, Humphrey CL, Dostine PL (1991) Statistical power and BACI designs in biological monitoring: comparative evaluation of measures of community dissimilarity based on benthic macroinvertebrate communities in Rockhole Mine Creek, Northern Territory, Australia. Mar Freshw Res 42:589–602CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hixon MA, Beets JP (1989) Shelter characteristics and Caribbean fish assemblages: experiments with artificial reefs. Bull Mar Sci 44:666–680Google Scholar
- Hubbard DK, Parsons KM, Bythell JC, Walker ND (1991) The effects of Hurricane Hugo on the reefs and associated environments of St. Croix, US Virgin Islands—a preliminary assessment. J Coast Res 8:33–48Google Scholar
- Humann PD, Humann NP, DeLoach N (2003) Reef fish identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas (No. QL 628. F6. H85 2003)Google Scholar
- Johnson ME, Lustic C, Bartels E, Baums IB, Gilliam DS, Larson EA, Lirman D, Miller MW, Nedimyer K, Schopmeyer S (2011) Caribbean acropora restoration guide: best practices for propagation and population enhancement. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, pp 1–64Google Scholar
- Kojis BL, Quinn NJ (2001) The importance of regional differences in hard coral recruitment rates for determining the need for coral restoration. Bull Mar Sci 69:967–974Google Scholar
- Oksanen J, Blanchet FG, Kindt R et al (2013) Package “vegan”. R Packag Ver 254:20–28Google Scholar
- R Core Team (2015) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
- Rooker JR, Dennis GD (1991) Diel, lunar and seasonal changes in a mangrove fish assemblage off southwestern Puerto Rico. Bull Mar Sci 49:684–698Google Scholar