Tuesday, February 23, 2010

patterns of reef fish community assembly -- good news for marine reserve design.

My colleagues and I recently published an article on PLoS One detailing a novel application of community assembly null models: tests for patterns (regardless of the underlying process) with implications for management and conservation of species, communities and ecosystems.

Using this approach, we explored reef fish community patterns across the Caribbean basin and found that community patterns are surprisingly conducive to effective diversity based marine reserve network design. One of the most interesting things to fall of of this analysis is that there is strong evidence for facilitation (positive species interactions) as a key interaction structuring reef fish communities. While behaviors such as social foraging and cleaning stations have been well documented, it was previously not clear what roll such mutualistic behaviors had in structuring communities. The finding of pervasive positive species interactions suggests that these behaviors (and mutualisms in general) play a key role in structuring communities throughout the Caribbean basin. Among other things, this finding may provide a mechanism explaining why many studies have found increases in species diversity following marine reserve establishment. Put simply, it may be as easy as "build it and they will come." Certainly an interersting "straw man" to be tested in the future.