Effects of simulated overfishing on the succession of benthic algae and invertebrates in an upwelling-influenced coral reef of Pacific Costa Rica
Sánchez Noguera, Celeste
Morales Ramírez, Álvaro
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Overfishing and nutrient enrichment are among the major local stressors to coral reefs worldwide, as they can alter the benthic reef community by promoting fast growing algae and bioeroders. The Northern coast of Pacific Costa Rica is strongly influenced by seasonal upwelling events that naturally increase nutrient concentrations between December and March. This study therefore investigated the combined effects of simulated overfishing and naturally increased nutrients on benthic community composition and succession on settlement tiles over a period of 24 weeks (October 2013 until March 2014) using exclusion cages deployed in a coral reef in the Gulf of Papagayo. Tile cover of functional groups and development of organic C and N on light-exposed and –shaded tile sites were assessed. Results revealed that the exclusion of fish significantly increased the development of organic C and N and decreased the C/N ratio on light-exposed tiles. Large filamentous algae (> 2 mm), fleshy macroalgae and the colonial ascidian Didemnum sp. (Savigny 1816) (up to 80% tile coverage) were dominant on both tile sites. A significant peak of filamentous algae growth and associated organic matter C/N ratio occurred on light-exposed tiles throughout all treatments in February when nutrient concentrations were elevated. These results suggest that both herbivore exclusion and natural eutrophication have a strong influence on the benthic reef community composition and its early succession patterns. The presence of Didemnum sp. and turf algae could represent good early warning bioindicators for local overfishing and eutrophication and may therefore be included in management and monitoring strategies.