The recovery of historic community assemblages on reefs is a primary objective for the management of marine ecosystems. Working under the overall hypothesis that, as fishing pressure increases, the abundance in upper trophic levels decreases followed by intermediate levels, we develop an index that characterizes the comparative health of rocky reefs. Using underwater visual transects to sample rocky reefs in the Gulf of California, Mexico, we sampled 147 reefs across 1200 km to test this reef health index (IRH). Five-indicators described 88% of the variation among the reefs along this fishing-intensity gradient: the biomass of piscivores and carnivores were positively associated with reef health; while the relative abundances of zooplanktivores, sea stars, and sea urchins, were negatively correlated with degraded reefs health. The average size of commercial macro-invertebrates and the absolute fish biomass increased significantly with increasing values of the IRH. Higher total fish biomass was found on reefs with complex geomorphology compared to reefs with simple geomorphology (r2 = 0.14, F = 44.05, P < 0.0001) and the trophic biomass pyramid also changed, which supports the evidence of the inversion of biomass pyramids along the gradient of reefs' health. Our findings introduce a novel approach to classify the health of rocky reefs under different fishing regimes and therefore resultant community structures. Additionally, our IRH provides insight regarding the potential gains in total fish biomass that may result from the conservation and protection of reefs with more complex geomorphology.
© 2015 The Authors.
Aburto-Oropeza O, Ezcurra E, Moxley J, Sánchez-Rodríguez A, Mascarenas-Osorio I, Sánchez-Ortiz C, Erisman B, Ricketts T. A framework to assess the health of rocky reefs linking geomorphology, community assemblage, and fish biomass. Ecological Indicators. 2015 May 1;52:353-61.