Recent Region-wide Declines in Caribbean Reef Fish Abundance


Michelle J. Paddack, Simon Fraser University
John D. Reynolds, Simon Fraser University
Consuelo Aguilar, Universidad de La Habana
Richard S. Appeldoorn, Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez
Jim Beets, University of Hawaii at Hilo
Edward W. Burkett, University of Wisconsin-Superior
Paul M. Chittaro, NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center
Kristen Clarke, The University of the West Indies
Rene Esteves, Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez
Ana C. Fonseca, Universidad de Costa Rica
Graham E. Forrester, University of Rhode Island
Alan M. Friedlander, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Jorge García-Sais, Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez
Gaspar González-Sansón, Universidad de La Habana
Lance K.B. Jordan, Nova Southeastern University
David B. McClellan, NOAA Fisheries Service
Margaret W. Miller, NOAA Fisheries Service
Philip P. Molloy, Simon Fraser University
Peter J. Mumby, University of Exeter
Ivan Nagelkerken, Radboud Universiteit
Michael Nemeth, Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez
Raúl Navas-Camacho, Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras José Benito Vives de Andréis
Joanna Pitt, Marine Resources Section
Nicholas V.C. Polunin, Newcastle University
Maria Catalina Reyes-Nivia, Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras José Benito Vives de Andréis
D. Ross Robertson, Apache Point Observatory
Alberto Rodríguez-Ramírez, Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras José Benito Vives de Andréis
Eva Salas, Universidad de Costa Rica
Struan R. Smith, Georgia State University
Richard E. Spieler, Nova Southeastern University
Mark A. Steele, California State University, Northridge

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Profound ecological changes are occurring on coral reefs throughout the tropics [1-3], with marked coral cover losses and concomitant algal increases, particularly in the Caribbean region [4]. Historical declines in the abundance of large Caribbean reef fishes likely reflect centuries of overexploitation [5-7]. However, effects of drastic recent degradation of reef habitats on reef fish assemblages have yet to be established. By using meta-analysis, we analyzed time series of reef fish density obtained from 48 studies that include 318 reefs across the Caribbean and span the time period 1955-2007. Our analyses show that overall reef fish density has been declining significantly for more than a decade, at rates that are consistent across all subregions of the Caribbean basin (2.7% to 6.0% loss per year) and in three of six trophic groups. Changes in fish density over the past half-century are modest relative to concurrent changes in benthic cover on Caribbean reefs. However, the recent significant decline in overall fish abundance and its consistency across several trophic groups and among both fished and nonfished species indicate that Caribbean fishes have begun to respond negatively to habitat degradation. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Current Biology