Linking protection with the distribution of grouper and habitat quality in Seychelles
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Authors: Howlett, S.J., Stafford, R., Waller, M., Antha, S. and Mason-Parker, C.
Journal: Journal of Marine Biology
Marine protected areas can be designated for a number of reasons, but exactly how they provide benefits is only recently being understood. We assessed the effect of protection on the size and distribution of six common species of grouper in a coral reef ecosystem. Data on live coral cover, coral genus diversity, and coral colony structure type were also compared to give an indication of reef quality between sites. A significant interaction was found for Aethaloperca rogaa and Cephalopholis nigripinnis, indicating that protected areas held greater numbers of smaller and median sized fish of these species than unprotected areas. Similar but nonsignificant trends were found for Cephalopholis miniata and Cephalopholis argus. For Anyperodon leucogrammicus, MPAs held significantly more fish than unprotected sites, but as the increase was equal between size categories there was no interaction. The last species Epinephelus fasciatus, which was one of the smallest species, had no significant interaction, similar mean counts between protected and unprotected areas, and no obvious strong favouritism for particular sites with values indicating better reef quality, indicating intraspecies competition. The results of this study indicate that while the MPAs in this study are likely too small to benefit large groupers, the improvements to habitat quality have indirect benefits to groupers, especially at their earlier life stages.