The concurrent rise in the prevalence of conspicuous benthic cyanobacterial mats and the incidence of coral diseases independently markmajor axes of degradation of coral reefs globally. Recent advances have uncovered the potential for the existence of interactions between the expanding cover of cyanobacterial mats and coral disease, especially black band disease (BBD), and this intersection represents both an urgent conservation concern and a critical challenge for future research. Here, we propose links between the transmission of BBD and benthic cyanobacterial mats. We provide molecular and ecophysiological evidence suggesting that cyanobacterial mats may create and maintain physically favorable benthic refugia for BBD pathogens while directly harboring BBD precursor assemblages, and discuss how mats may serve as direct (mediated via contact) and indirect (mediated via predator–prey–pathogen relationships) vectors for BBD pathogens. Finally, we identify and outline future priority research directions that are aligned with actionable management practices and priorities to support evidence-based coral conservation practices.
Effective management strategies are needed to control expansion of invasive alien plant species and attenuate economic and ecological impacts. While previous theoretical studies have assessed optimal control strategies that balance economic costs and ecological benefits, less attention has been paid to the ways in which the spatial characteristics of individual patches may mediate the effectiveness of management strategies. We developed a spatially explicit cellular automaton model for invasive species spread, and compared the effectiveness of seven control strategies. These control strategies used different criteria to prioritize the removal of invasive species patches from the landscape. The different criteria were related to patch size, patch geometry, and patch position within the landscape. Effectiveness of strategies was assessed for both seed dispersing and clonally expanding plant species. We found that, for seed-dispersing species, removal of small patches and removal of patches that are isolated within the landscape comprised relatively effective control strategies. For clonally expanding species, removal of patches based on their degree of isolation and their geometrical properties comprised relatively effective control strategies. Subsequently, we parameterized the model to mimic the observed spatial distribution of the invasive species Antigonon leptopus on St. Eustatius (northern Caribbean). This species expands clonally and also disperses via seeds, and model simulations showed that removal strategies focusing on smaller patches that are more isolated in the landscape would be most effective and could increase the effectiveness of a 10-yr control strategy by 30–90%, as compared to random removal of patches. Our study emphasizes the potential for invasive plant species management to utilize recent advances in remote sensing, which enable mapping of invasive species at the high spatial resolution needed to quantify patch geometries. The presented results highlight how this spatial information can be used in the design of more effective invasive species control strategies
Species invasions have a range of negative effects on recipient ecosystems, and many occur at a scale and magnitude that preclude complete eradication. When complete extirpation is unlikely with available management resources, an effective strategy may be to suppress invasive populations below levels predicted to cause undesirable ecological change. We illustrate this approach by developing and testing targets for the control of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) on Western Atlantic coral reefs. We first developed a size-structured simulation model of predation by lionfish on native fish communities, which we used to predict threshold densities of lionfish beyond which native fish biomass should decline. We then tested our predictions by experimentally manipulating lionfish densities above or below reef-specific thresholds, and monitoring the consequences for native fish populations on 24 Bahamian patch reefs over 18 months. We found that reducing lionfish below predicted threshold densities effectively protected native fish community biomass from predation-induced declines. Reductions in density of 75- 95%, depending on the reef, were required to suppress lionfish below levels predicted to over-consume prey. On reefs where lionfish were kept below threshold densities, native prey fish biomass increased by 50-70%. Gains in small (<6cm) size classes of native fishes translated into lagged increases in larger size classes over time. The biomass of larger individuals (>15cm total length), including ecologically important grazers and economically important fisheries species, had increased by 10-65% by the end of the experiment.
Crucially, similar gains in prey fish biomass were realized on reefs subjected to partial and full removal of lionfish, but partial removals took 30% less time to implement. By contrast, the biomass of small native fishes declined by more than 50% on all reefs with lionfish densities exceeding reef-specific thresholds. Large inter-reef variation in the biomass of prey fishes at the outset of the study, which influences the threshold density of lionfish, means that we could not identify a single rule-of-thumb for guiding control efforts. However, our model provides a method for setting reef-specific targets for population control using local monitoring data. Our work is the first to demonstrate that for ongoing invasions, suppressing invaders below densities that cause environmental harm can have a similar effect, in terms of protecting the native ecosystem on a local scale, to achieving complete eradication.