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Mar Biol. 2010;157(12):2739-2750. Epub 2010 Aug 26.

Acute effects of removing large fish from a near-pristine coral reef.

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Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, Pacific Grove, CA 93950 USA.
Biology Department, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305 USA.
Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4J1 Canada.
Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY 10024 USA ; Institute of Marine Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 USA.
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106 USA.
Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY 10024 USA ; Marine Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, Kavieng, New Ireland Province Papua New Guinea.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093 USA.
Darling Marine Center, University of Maine, Walpole, ME 04573 USA.


Large animals are severely depleted in many ecosystems, yet we are only beginning to understand the ecological implications of their loss. To empirically measure the short-term effects of removing large animals from an ocean ecosystem, we used exclosures to remove large fish from a near-pristine coral reef at Palmyra Atoll, Central Pacific Ocean. We identified a range of effects that followed from the removal of these large fish. These effects were revealed within weeks of their removal. Removing large fish (1) altered the behavior of prey fish; (2) reduced rates of herbivory on certain species of reef algae; (3) had both direct positive (reduced mortality of coral recruits) and indirect negative (through reduced grazing pressure on competitive algae) impacts on recruiting corals; and (4) tended to decrease abundances of small mobile benthic invertebrates. Results of this kind help advance our understanding of the ecological importance of large animals in ecosystems.

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