Coral decline threatens fish biodiversity in marine reserves
The worldwide decline in coral cover has serious implications for the health of coral reefs. But what is the future of reef fish assemblages? Marine reserves can protect fish from exploitation, but do they protect fish biodiversity in degrading environments? The answer appears to be no, as indicated by our 8-year study in Papua New Guinea. A devastating decline in coral cover caused a parallel decline in fish biodiversity, both in marine reserves and in areas open to fishing. Over 75% of reef fish species declined in abundance, and 50% declined to less than half of their original numbers. The greater the dependence species have on living coral as juvenile recruitment sites, the greater the observed decline in abundance. Several rare coral-specialists became locally extinct. We suggest that fish biodiversity is threatened wherever permanent reef degradation occurs and warn that marine reserves will not always be sufficient to ensure their survival.