University Of Tasmania

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Variation in reef fish and invertebrate communities with level of protection from fishing across the Eastern Tropical Pacific seascape

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 06:36 authored by Graham EdgarGraham Edgar, Banks, SA, Bessudo, S, Cortes, J, Guzman, HM, Henderson, S, Martinez, C, Rivera, F, Soler, G, Ruiz, D, Zapata, F

Aim To quantify general differences in reef community structure between well enforced and poorly enforced marine protected areas (MPAs) and fished sites across the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) regional seascape

Location The Pacific continental margin and oceanic islands of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador, including World Heritage sites at Galapagos, Coiba, Cocos and Malpelo Methods Densities of reef fishes, mobile and sessile invertebrates, and macroalgae were quantified using underwater visual surveys at 136 ‘no-take’ and 54 openly fished sites associated with seven large MPAs that encompassed a range of management strategies. Spatial variation inmultivariate and univariate community metrics was related to three levels of fishing pressure (high-protection MPAs, limited-protection MPAs, fishing zones) for both continental and oceanic reefs.

Results High-protection MPAs possessed a much greater biomass of higher carnivorous fishes, lower densities of asteroids and Eucidaris spp. urchins, and higher coral cover than limited-protection MPAs and fished zones. These results were generally consistent with the hypothesis that overfishing of predatory fishes within the ETP has led to increased densities of habitat-modifying macroinvertebrates, which has contributed to regional declines in coral cover. Major differences in ecological patterns were also evident between continental and oceanic biogeographic provinces.

Main conclusions Fishing down the food web, with associated trophic cascades, has occurred to a greater extent along the continental coast than off oceanic islands. Poorly enforced MPAs generate food webs more similar to those present in fished areas than in well-protected MPAs.


Publication title

Global Ecology and Biogeography










Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


John Wiley & Sons

Place of publication

New Jersey, USA

Rights statement

The definitive published version is available online at:

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Coastal or estuarine biodiversity