Differential response of fish assemblages to coral reef-based seaweed farming

E.J. Hehre, Jessica Meeuwig

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16 Citations (Scopus)


© 2015 Hehre, Meeuwig. As the global demand for seaweed-derived products drives the expansion of seaweed farming onto shallow coral ecosystems, the effects of farms on fish assemblages remain largely unexplored. Shallow coral reefs provide food and shelter for highly diverse fish assemblages but are increasingly modified by anthropogenic activities. We hypothesized that the introduction of seaweed farms into degraded shallow coral reefs had potential to generate ecological benefits for fish by adding structural complexity and a possible food source. We conducted 210 transects at 14 locations, with sampling stratified across seaweed farms and sites adjacent to and distant from farms. At a seascape scale, locations were classified by their level of exposure to human disturbance.We compared sites where (1) marine protected areas (MPAs) were established, (2) neither MPAs nor blast fishing was present (hence "unprotected"), and (3) blast fishing occurred. We observed 80,186 fish representing 148 species from 38 families. The negative effects of seaweed farms on fish assemblages appeared stronger in the absence of blast fishing and were strongest when MPAs were present, likely reflecting the positive influence of the MPAs on fish within them. Species differentiating fish assemblages with respect to seaweed farming and disturbance were typically small but also included two key target species. The propensity for seaweed farms to increase fish diversity, abundance, and biomass is limited and may reduce MPA benefits. We suggest that careful consideration be given to the placement of seaweed farms relative to MPAs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
JournalPLoS One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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