Limited differences in fish and benthic communities and possible cascading effects inside and outside a protected marine area in Sagres (SW Portugal) | EMBRC

Limited differences in fish and benthic communities and possible cascading effects inside and outside a protected marine area in Sagres (SW Portugal)

2016.04.28

Limited differences in fish and benthic communities and possible cascading effects inside and outside a protected marine area in Sagres (SW Portugal)

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a relatively recent fisheries management and conservation tool for conservation of marine ecosystems and serve as experimental grounds to assess trophic cascade effects in areas were fishing is restricted to some extent. A series of descriptive field studies were performed to assess fish and benthic communities between two areas within a newly established MPA in SW Portugal. We characterized benthic macroalgal composition and determined the size, density and biomass of the main benthic predatory and herbivorous fish species as well as the main benthic herbivorous invertebrates to assess indications of top-down control on the phytobenthic assemblages. Fish species were identical inside and outside the MPA, in both cases Sarpa salpa was the most abundant fish herbivore and Diplodus spp. accounted for the great majority of the benthic predators. However, size and biomass of D. spp. were higher inside than outside the MPA. The main herbivorous invertebrate was the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus, which was smaller and predominantly showing a crevice-dwelling behaviour in the MPA. In addition, P. lividus size frequency distribution showed a unimodal pattern outside and a bimodal pattern inside the MPA. We found significant differences in the algal assemblages between inside and outside the MPA, with higher abundance of turf and foliose algae inside, and articulated calcareous and corticated macrophytes outside the MPA, but no differences in the invasive Asparagopsisspp. The obtained results show differences in predatory fish and benthic community structure, but not in species richness, inside and outside the MPA. We hypothesize these differences lead to variation in species interactions: directly through predation and indirectly via affecting sea urchins behavioural patterns, predators might drive changes in macroalgal assemblages via trophic cascade in the study area. However due to non-biological differences between the two areas it is difficult to suggest that the MPA causes increased biological parameters of targeted species and to assess predatory control and trophic cascade effects in areas where fishing pressure is reduced. It is therefor advisable to design MPAs so that their impacts can be scientifically evaluated in a proper fashion.

Keywords: Marine protected area (MPA); Fish community; Benthic community: protection impact

Marta , Evangelista | CCMAR - Centre of Marine Sciences/University of Algarve

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