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Department ofBotany

No. 371
November 2015

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In This Issue

Agriculture and Fishing Cause Coral Reef Decline

-Adapted from Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Since researchers began surveys in the 1980s, coral reefs in the Caribbean have undergone widespread change following bleaching and disease epidemics that have reduced the abundance of reef-building corals by 50 percent.

A new study by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Washington and Lee University concludes that coral declines along the Caribbean coast of Panama began much earlier, in the early- to mid-20th century, and were related to the first wave of industrial agriculture.

The study appeared in Marine Pollution Bulletin. It is the first study to offer a comprehensive description of the composition of historical and modern Caribbean coral reef molluscan communities.

Molluscs collected from Caribbean Panama (Photo by Katie Cramer)

Molluscs collected from Caribbean Panama (Photo by Katie Cramer)

Katie Cramer, a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps Oceanography and a fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute collected more than 35,000 shells of clams and other molluscs from large pits that she excavated underwater at multiple reef sites in the Bocas del Toro region of Caribbean Panama. Pits were dug from lagoons closer to shore and more influenced by runoff as well as offshore sites less influenced by runoff. To pinpoint the timing of changes, she used radiocarbon dating to estimate the approximate age of the shells.

The molluscs lived on the reef and when they died, their soft bodies decomposed and their shells remained and became part of the "fossil record." As corals, other molluscs, urchins, algae, and other organisms continued to grow near and on top of the empty shells, the shells became incorporated into the reef sediments and fossilized.

Analyzing newer fossils such as these shells allows researchers to go back in time to re-create the state of coral reefs before large-scale human disturbance from activities such as industrialized agriculture, commercial fishing, and climate change, said Cramer.

Cramer found increased dominance of molluscs that are typically found in nutrient- and sediment-laden waters. Conversely, there was reduced dominance of molluscs associated with low nutrients and sediments and high coral abundance, revealing that water quality has been declining since the early 20th century at lagoonal reefs and after 1960 at offshore reefs. The fossils used in the study had not been harvested, indicating that overfishing was not the reason for their decline.

Katie Cramer collects coral skeletons and shells from excavation pit near Bocas del Toro, Panama. (Photo courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

Katie Cramer collects coral skeletons and shells from excavation pit near Bocas del Toro, Panama. (Photo courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

The timing of mollusc community changes at lagoonal reefs coincided with the onset of large-scale banana plantations in the region, suggesting increasing sediments and nutrients from land clearing and agricultural runoff were causes of early water quality declines.

"These fossil data provide a more accurate baseline from which to understand the true magnitude and ultimate causes of changes to Caribbean reefs, including disease and coral bleaching outbreaks that began in the 1980s," Cramer says.  "Our study suggests that historical land clearing resulted in deteriorating reef environments long before coral disease and bleaching, and could have played an important role in recent coral declines."

Cramer hopes that results of this study will help raise awareness of the need to enact better land management practices to protect and restore imperiled Caribbean coral reefs.

Study co-authors include Jill Leonard-Pingel of Washington and Lee University, Felix Rodriguez of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and Jeremy Jackson of Scripps Oceanography and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, University of California Academic Senate, Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Oceanography, and PADI's Project Aware.

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Crego-Prieto, V., Ardura, A., Juanes, F., Roca, A., Taylor, J.S., and Garcia-Vazquez, E. 2015. Aquaculture and the spread of introduced mussel genes in British Columbia. Biol. Invasions 17(7):2011-2026.

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Cressey, E.R., Measey, G.J., and Tolley, K.A. 2015. Fading out of view: the enigmatic decline of Rose's mountain toad Capensibufo rosei. Oryx 49(3):521-528.

Cumberlidge, N. 2015. Redescriptions of three species of freshwater crabs from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa (Brachyura: Potamoidea: Potamonautidae). Zootaxa 3973(1):119-138.

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Da Silva, M.J. 2015. Two new wild cassava species (Manihot, Euphorbiaceae) from the Brazilian Cerrado. Phytotaxa 213(2):131-139.

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Daltry, J.C., Prospere, A., Toussaint, A., Gengelbach, J., and Morton, M.N. 2015. Making business scents: how to harvest incense sustainably from the globally threatened lansan tree Protium attenuatum. Oryx 49(3):431-441.

Daru, B.H., van der Bank, M., and Davies, T.J. 2015. Spatial incongruence among hotspots and complementary areas of tree diversity in southern Africa. Divers. Distrib. 21(7):769-780.

Dávalos, A., Nuzzo, V., and Blossey, B. 2015. Interactive effects of deer, earthworms and non-native plants on rare forest plant recruitment. Biol. Conserv. 187:173-181.

Davidson, A.D., Fusaro, A.J., and Kashian, D.R. 2015. Using a novel spatial tool to inform invasive species early detection and rapid response efforts. Environ. Manage. 56(1):54-65.

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Wan, J.P.H., Chan, B.P.L., Liao, C., Mi, H.X., Lau, M., Li, F., Wang, H.S., and Sung, Y.H. 2015. Conservation status of freshwater turtles in Hainan Island, China: interviews and field surveys at Yinggeling Nature Reserve. Chelonian Conserv. Biol. 14(1):100-103.

Wang, C., Zhang, X.L., Pan, X.B., Li, Z.H., and Zhu, S.F. 2015. Greenhouses: hotspots in the invasive network for alien species. Biodivers. Conserv. 24(7):1825-1829.

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Watanabe, M.T.C., Echternacht, L., Hensold, N., and Sano, P.T. 2015. Two new and endangered species of Syngonanthus (Eriocaulaceae) from Chapada dos Veadeiros, Goiás, Brazil. Phytotaxa 212(4):271-282.

Weinstein, N., Rogerson, M., Moreton, J., Balmford, A., and Bradbury, R.B. 2015. Conserving nature out of fear or knowledge? Using threatening versus connecting messages to generate support for environmental causes. J. Nature Conserv. 26:49-55.

Weise, F.J., Lemeris, J., Stratford, K.J., van Vuuren, R.J., Munro, S.J., Crawford, S.J., Marker, L.L., and Stein, A.B. 2015. A home away from home: insights from successful leopard (Panthera pardus) translocations. Biodivers. Conserv. 24(7):1755-1774.

White, E.R., Myers, M.C., Flemming, J.M., and Baum, J.K. 2015. Shifting elasmobranch community assemblage at Cocos Island - an isolated marine protected area. Conserv. Biol. 29(4):1186-1197.

Whitham, C.E.L., Shi, K., and Riordan, P. 2015. Ecosystem service valuation assessments for protected area management: a case study comparing methods using different land cover classification and valuation approaches. PLoS ONE 10(6):e0129748.

Whitworth, A., Beirne, C., Rowe, J., Ross, F., Acton, C., Burdekin, O., and Brown, P. 2015. The response of faunal biodiversity to an unmarked road in the Western Amazon. Biodivers. Conserv. 24(7):1657-1670.

Willemen, L., Cottam, A.J., Drakou, E.G., and Burgess, N.D. 2015. Using social media to measure the contribution of red list species to the nature-based tourism potential of African protected areas. PLoS ONE 10(6):e0129785.

Williams, J.E., Neville, H.M., Haak, A.L., Colyer, W.T., Wenger, S.J., and Bradshaw, S. 2015. Climate change adaptation and restoration of western trout streams: opportunities and strategies. Fisheries 40(7):304-317.

Williams, R.C., Jackson, B.C., Duvaux, L., Dawson, D.A., Burke, T., and Sinclair, W. 2015. The genetic structure of Nautilus pompilius populations surrounding Australia and the Philippines. Mol. Ecol. 24(13):3316-3328.

Williams, S.J., Jones, J.P.G., Gibbons, J.M., and Clubbe, C. 2015. Botanic gardens can positively influence visitors' environmental attitudes. Biodivers. Conserv. 24(7):1609-1620.

Wilsey, B.J., and Martin, L.M. 2015. Top-down control of rare species abundances by native ungulates in a grassland restoration. Restor. Ecol. 23(4):465-472.

Wilson, A.D.M., Wikelski, M., Wilson, R.P., and Cooke, S.J. 2015. Utility of biological sensor tags in animal conservation. Conserv. Biol. 29(4):1065-1075.

Wilson, R.E., Farley, S.D., McDonough, T.J., Talbot, S.L., and Barboza, P.S. 2015. A genetic discontinuity in moose (Alces alces) in Alaska corresponds with fenced transportation infrastructure. Conserv. Genet. 16(4):791-800.

Wilson, S.D. 2015. Managing contingency in semiarid grassland restoration through repeated planting. Restor. Ecol. 23(4):385-392.

Wolff, S., Schulp, C.J.E., and Verburg, P.H. 2015. Mapping ecosystem services demand: a review of current research and future perspectives. Ecol. Indic. 55:159-171.

Wood, T.J., Holland, J.M., and Goulson, D. 2015. Pollinator-friendly management does not increase the diversity of farmland bees and wasps. Biol. Conserv. 187:120-126.

Wright, G.D., and Frey, J.K. 2015. Habitat selection by the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse on an irrigated floodplain. J. Fish Wildlife Manage. 6(1):112-129.

Wyborn, C. 2015. Connectivity conservation: boundary objects, science narratives and the co-production of science and practice. Environ. Sci. Policy 51:292-303.

Xenikoudakis, G., Ersmark, E., Tison, J.L., Waits, L., Kindberg, J., Swenson, J.E., and Dalén, L. 2015. Consequences of a demographic bottleneck on genetic structure and variation in the Scandinavian brown bear. Mol. Ecol. 24(13):3441-3454.

Yang, J.H., and Chan, B.P.L. 2015. Two new species of the genus Goniurosaurus (Squamata: Sauria: Eublepharidae) from southern China. Zootaxa 3980(1):67-80.

Zahawi, R.A., Reid, J.L., and Holl, K.D. 2015. Passive restoration can be an effective strategy: a reply to Prach and del Moral (2015). Restor. Ecol. 23(4):347-348.

Zhou, C.F., Xu, J.L., and Zhang, Z.W. 2015. Dramatic decline of the Vulnerable Reeves's pheasant Syrmaticus reevesii, endemic to central China. Oryx 49(3):529-534.

Zimmerhackel, J.S., Schuhbauer, A.C., Usseglio, P., Heel, L.C., and Salinas-de-León, P. 2015. Catch, bycatch and discards of the Galapagos Marine Reserve small-scale handline fishery. PeerJ 3:e995.

Zuluaga, G.J.C., and Rodewald, A.D. 2015. Response of mixed-species flocks to habitat alteration and deforestation in the Andes. Biol. Conserv. 188:72-81.

Zylstra, E.R., Steidl, R.J., Swann, D.E., and Ratzlaff, K. 2015. Hydrologic variability governs population dynamics of a vulnerable amphibian in an arid environment. PLoS ONE 10(6):e0125670.

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