Managing Herbivores for their Impacts on Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems: A summary Report for Managers and Practitioners

Grazing parrotfish A Midnight parrotfish grazing on algae in the Florida Keys.
Photo Credit: Alain Duran

Caribbean reefs have suffered unprecedented declines over the last several decades due to a variety of factors. Some of the most rapid and dramatic changes occurred following the region-wide die-off of the sea urchin, Diadema antillarum, in the mid-1980s, which resulted in the proliferation of algae on many reefs, especially those with few herbivorous fishes. Thirty years later, Diadema remain rare in most locations, algae are abundant on many reefs, and there is concern that fisheries targeting herbivorous fishes, especially parrotfishes, are compromising the function of many reef ecosystems. In some locations, such as the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Bahamas, robust populations of herbivorous fishes have been associated with elevated coral recruitment and positive reef trajectories. Yet other reefs, such as those in the Florida Keys, show no signs of recovery despite abundant herbivore populations. The emerging picture suggests that impacts of herbivores on coral recovery are likely to be highly context-dependent, and that management actions targeting herbivores will vary in their ability to facilitate coral persistence and recovery.  This report, which summarizes information from a larger scientific review (Adam et al. 2015), is intended to serve as a guide on how to manage herbivore populations to facilitate healthy, resilient coral reefs.

Citation: Adam, T. C., Burkepile D. E., Ruttenberg B. I., Paddack M. J. (2015) Managing herbivores for their impacts on Caribbean coral reef ecosystems: A summary report for managers and practitioners. PRBD-2015-1. US National Marine Fisheries Service


Adam TC, Burkepile DE, Ruttenberg BI, Paddack MJ (2015) Herbivory and the resilience of Caribbean coral reefs: knowledge gaps and implications for management. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 520:1-20. doi: 10.3354/meps11170