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Data from: Mapping habitats in a marine reserve showed how a 30-year trophic cascade altered ecosystem structure


Leleu, Kévin; Remy-Zephir, Brice; Grace, Roger; Costello, Mark John (2012), Data from: Mapping habitats in a marine reserve showed how a 30-year trophic cascade altered ecosystem structure, Dryad, Dataset,


Time-series studies have reported trophic cascades in land, freshwater and marine environments in many geographic areas. However, the spatial extent of habitats, a key metric of ecosystem structure, has not been mapped in these studies. Marine reserves can provide experimental, before-after and inside-outside (control-impacted), situations for assessing the impact of fishing on ecosystems. We mapped seabed habitats and their associated communities (biotopes) in New Zealand’s oldest marine reserve for comparison with pre-reserve maps created about 30 years previously. Areas grazed bare by sea urchins were entirely replaced in the centre of the reserve by kelp, or alga turf, an intermediate biotope between heavily grazed encrusting algae and lightly grazed kelp. Urchins declined following increased abundance and body size of spiny (rock) lobsters and fish (especially snapper) in the reserve but maintained bare rock outside. While this gradient in habitat change matched the gradient of predator abundance, it also matched the extent of reef habitat area. Thus the trophic cascade may be influenced by the effect of habitat on the abundance and behavioural interactions of urchins and their predators. Further ecosystem changes may arise should the abundance of mega-predators, such as seals, cetaceans and large sharks, increase in the region; if parasites become pathogenic; and/or when invasive species reach the reserve. No-take Marine Reserves provide real-world experiments that show the importance of species in food webs, and the consequences of fishing for ecosystems. Because these changes in ecosystem structure may continue, and will vary with environment, climate and species distributions, reserves need to be permanent and replicated geographically. Habitat maps should be produced for all reserves to enable ecological changes in the ecosystem to be spatially quantified.

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New Zealand