Harvesting Effects, Recovery Mechanisms, and Management Strategies for a Long-Lived and Structural Precious Coral

Abstract : Overexploitation is a major threat for the integrity of marine ecosystems. Understanding the ecological consequences of different extractive practices and the mechanisms underlying the recovery of populations is essential to ensure sustainable management plans. Precious corals are long-lived structural invertebrates, historically overfished, and their conservation is currently a worldwide concern. However, the processes underlying their recovery are poorly known. Here, we examined harvesting effects and recovery mechanisms of red coral Corallium rubrum by analyzing long-term photographic series taken on two populations that were harvested. We compared the relative importance of reproduction and re-growth as drivers of resilience. Harvesting heavily impacted coral populations causing large decreases in biomass and strong size-class distribution shifts towards populations dominated by small colonies. At the end of the study (after 4 and 7 years) only partial recovery was observed. The observed general pattern of low recruitment and high mortality of new recruits demonstrated limited effects of reproduction on population recovery. Adversely, low mortality of partially harvested adults and a large proportion of colonies showing new branches highlighted the importance of re-growth in the recovery process. The demographic projections obtained through stochastic models confirmed that the recovery rates of C. rubrum can be strongly modulated depending on harvesting procedures. Thus, leaving the basal section of the colonies when harvesting to avoid total mortality largely enhances the resilience of C. rubrum populations and quickens their recovery. On the other hand, the high survival of harvested colonies and the significant biomass reduction indicated that abundance may not be an adequate metric to assess the conservation status of clonal organisms because it can underestimate harvesting effects. This study highlights the unsustainability of current harvesting practices of C. rubrum and provides urgently needed data to improve management practices that are still largely based on untested assumptions.
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Ignasi Montero-Serra, Cristina Linares, Marina García, Francesca Pancaldi, Maša Frleta-Valić, et al.. Harvesting Effects, Recovery Mechanisms, and Management Strategies for a Long-Lived and Structural Precious Coral. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2015, 10 (e0117250), ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0117250⟩. ⟨hal-01219672⟩

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