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UH Study: Tropical Reefs Fare Better Than Temperate Ones Under Fishing Pressures

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Reef ecosystems in different regions will not react the same way to pressures from fishing. That’s according to a study led by a University of Hawaii at Manoa researcher.

Scientists examined how ocean ecosystems are impacted by fishing -- specifically when marine predators are fished out.

Using data from more than 100 Australian reefs, researchers found tropical reefs do better than colder, temperate ones when predators are reduced.

Study lead Elizabeth Madin says tropical reefs are less likely to see something called a “trophic cascade.”

"It’s sort of like a domino effect, where predators that are fished out – that reduced in number – their reduction leads to increases in the number of their prey," said Madin. "And then, the prey increases leads to reduction in their prey – so for example, seaweed or seagrass."

"But it seemed like there was a lot of evidence from colder systems – so temperate reefs around the world – that trophic cascade, that domino effect, they do actually happen there."

Madin says her study shows marine reserves improve predator populations in nearby reefs – and that benefits tropical reefs more than the temperate ones.

She says more research needs to be done but the data will help create better marine management plans.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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