Decadal shifts in traits of reef fish communities in marine reserves

Hadj-Hammou, J. and McClanahan, T.R. and Graham, N.A.J. (2021) Decadal shifts in traits of reef fish communities in marine reserves. Scientific Reports, 11 (1). ISSN 2045-2322

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Marine reserves are known to impact the biomass, biodiversity, and functions of coral reef fish communities, but the effect of protective management on fish traits is less explored. We used a time-series modelling approach to simultaneously evaluate the abundance, biomass, and traits of eight fish families over a chronosequence spanning 44 years of protection. We constructed a multivariate functional space based on six traits known to respond to management or disturbance and affect ecosystem processes: size, diet, position in the water column, gregariousness, reef association, and length at maturity. We show that biomass increased with a log-linear trend over the time-series, but abundance only increased after 20 years of closure, and with more variation among reserves. This difference is attributed to recovery rates being dependent on body sizes. Abundance-weighted traits and the associated multivariate space of the community change is driven by increased proportions over time of the trait categories: 7–15 cm body size; planktivorous; species low in the water column; medium-large schools; and species with high levels of reef association. These findings suggest that the trait compositions emerging after the cessation of fishing are novel and dynamic.

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Scientific Reports
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Export Date: 22 December 2021 Correspondence Address: Hadj-Hammou, J.; Lancaster University Environment Centre, United Kingdom; email: Funding details: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, JDCTMF Funding details: Natural Environment Research Council, NERC, NE/L002604/1 Funding details: Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, WIOMSA Funding text 1: Grants from the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, the Tiffany, and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations to the Wildlife Conservation Society supported the field work. Thanks to Kenya’s National Commission for Science and Innovation for clearance to do research in Kenya and Kenya Wildlife Services for permission to work in the parks. Research development was supported by a Doctoral Training Programme grant from NERC ENVISION (Grant Number: NE/L002604/1). We would also like to thank James Robinson for his help with the analysis and to the editor and two reviewers for their constructive suggestions. 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