Acute effects of removing large fish from a near-pristine coral reef
DJ McCauley, F Micheli, H Young, DP Tittensor, DR Brumbaugh, EMP Madin, KE Holmes, R Dunbar, J Smith, H Lotze, SN Arnold, B Worm.
Large animals are severely depleted in many ecosystems, yet we are only beginning to understand the ecological implications of their loss. To empirically measure the short-term effects of removing large animals from an ocean ecosystem, we used exclosures to remove large fish from a near-pristine coral reef at Palmyra Atoll, Central Pacific Ocean. We identified a range of effects that followed from the removal of these large fish. These effects were revealed within weeks of their removal. Removing large fish (1) altered the behavior of prey fish; (2) reduced rates of herbivory on certain species of reef algae; (3) had both direct positive (reduced mortality of coral recruits) and indirect negative (through reduced grazing pressure on competitive algae) impacts on recruiting corals; and (4) tended to decrease abundances of small mobile benthic invertebrates. Results of this kind help advance our understanding of the ecological importance of large animals in ecosystems.