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Predicting the vulnerability of tropical reef fishes to exploitation with phylogenies and life histories

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Simon Jennings, Professor Nick Polunin


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Fishing has led to local extirpations of reef fishes. For conservation and management purposes, it is important to identify all those species that are vulnerable to fishing, but this cannot be done using a priori assessments or by describing trends in abundance because the necessary scientific resources are not available. Thus the predictions of vulnerability that provide the basis for conservation action will have to be made with existing data or data that can be acquired rapidly before further extirpations occur. The life histories of species may determine their responses to exploitation, and we describe how an easily measured parameter, maximum observed size, is related to population trends of exploited fishes on coral reefs. Using a phylogenetic comparative approach, we demonstrated that species of grouper (Epinephelinae), snapper (Lutjanidae), and parrotfish (Scaridae) that decreased in abundance more than their nearest phylogenetic relative had greater maximum size. Our results suggest that one can predict the vulnerability of reef fishes to exploitation based on responses of their relatives. The quality of the prediction was good for the intensively fished groupers and snappers but poor for the lightly fished parrotfishes. Our approach may help proactive conservationists and fishery managers identify and conserve vulnerable species in new, developing, or lightly exploited fisheries, thereby reducing their reliance on reactive management methods.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jennings S, Reynolds JD, Polunin NVC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Conservation Biology

Year: 1999

Volume: 13

Issue: 6

Pages: 1466-1475

ISSN (print): 0888-8892

ISSN (electronic): 1523-1739

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.


DOI: 10.1046/j.1523-1739.1999.98324.x


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