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Title: Modeling the effects of selectively fishing key functional groups of herbivores on coral resilience

Mounting evidence suggests that fishing can be a major driver of coral‐to‐macroalgae regime shifts on tropical reefs. In many small‐scale coral reef fisheries, fishers target herbivorous fishes, which can weaken coral resilience via reduced herbivory on macroalgae that then outcompete corals. Previous models that explored the effects of harvesting herbivores revealed hysteresis in the herbivory–benthic state relationship that results in bistability of coral‐ and macroalgae‐dominated states over some levels of fishing pressure, which has been supported by empirical evidence. However, past models have not accounted for the functional differences among herbivores or how fisher selectivity for different herbivore functional groups may alter the benthic dynamics and resilience. Here, we use a dynamic model that links differential fishing on two key herbivore functional groups to the outcome of competitive dynamics between coral and macroalgae. We show that reef state depends not only on the level of fishing but also on the types of herbivores targeted by fishers. Selectively fishing browsing herbivores that are capable of consuming mature macroalgae (e.g., unicornfish) increases precariousness of the coral state by moving the system close to the coral‐to‐macroalgae tipping point. By contrast, selectively harvesting grazing herbivores that are only capable of preventing macroalgae from becoming established (e.g., parrotfishes) can increase catch yields substantially more before the tipping point is reached. However, this lower precariousness with increasing fishing effort comes at the cost of increasing the range of fishing effort over which coral and macroalgae are bistable; increasing hysteresis makes a regime shift triggered by a disturbance more difficult or impractical to reverse. Our results suggest that management strategies for small‐scale coral reef fisheries should consider how functional differences among harvested herbivores coupled with fisher selectivity influence benthic dynamics in light of the trade‐off between tipping point precariousness and coral recovery dynamics following large disturbances.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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