Evaluating Strategies for Restoring Parrotfish Populations in Belize Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
Creator
  • Cox, Courtney
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biology
Abstract
  • Parrotfish populations have declined throughout the Caribbean due to overfishing. Functional loss of these key grazers has contributed to a shift in reef community structure from coral to algal dominance. Marine protected areas (MPAs) and a national ban on the harvesting of herbivorous fishes are two management strategies implemented in Belize to recover parrotfish populations. Restricting or eliminating fishing is thought to promote high biomass of herbivorous fish that suppress macroalgae facilitating coral recruitment and population recovery. The success of these strategies not only depends on reduced fishing pressure, but also on the connectivity between parrotfish populations. My doctoral dissertation research examined the effectiveness of the MPA network in Belize and the ban on herbivorous fish harvesting in restoring fish communities and coral reef assemblages. From 2009 to 2013, I quantified the density and biomass of reef fishes, coral cover, and macroalgal cover at 16 reefs in Belize, including 8 protected sites and 8 unprotected sites. I then tested the effects of MPAs and the ban on herbivorous fish harvesting on coral reef community structure, projected parrotfish population recovery, and assessed connectivity between parrotfish populations in Belize and Honduras using nine nuclear microsatellite loci. Over the five year monitoring period, density or biomass increased for four parrotfish species. Population models indicate recovery is underway, and predict that a minimum of 9 years is needed to reach complete population recovery. Although the ban has been beneficial for parrotfish populations, my results also suggest that Belize's current network of MPAs have not provided general and measurable ecological benefits for parrotfish biomass or the benthic community. I found only weak genetic population structure among populations within the Southern Mesoamerican Barrier Reef suggesting that these populations are connected via larval dispersal. My results highlight the importance of establishing a management approach that crosses international boundaries and suggest that improved enforcement of MPAs and additional restrictions on fishing effort may be necessary to restore parrotfish populations and coral reef health.
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  • In Copyright
Advisor
  • White, Peter
  • Castillo, Karl
  • Jones, Corbin
  • Wares, John
  • Bruno, John
Degree
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2014
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
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  • This item is restricted from public view for 1 year after publication.
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