ABSTRACT: There is increasing recognition that habitats should be managed as part of fisheries management. It is generally assumed that amount of suitable habitat is linked to production of de- mersal species and that maps of bottom type will provide the information needed to conserve essen- tial habitats. In this review, a synthesis of nursery habitat is made for Strombus gigas (queen conch), a large, economically important gastropod in the Caribbean region. Juveniles occur on a variety of bottom types over their geographic range. In the Bahamas, nurseries occur in specific locations within large, beds of seagrass, while obvious characteristics of the benthic environment such as seagrass density, depth and sediment type are not good predictors of suitable habitat. Rather, nurseries persist where competent larvae are concentrated by tidal circulation and where settlement occurs selec- tively. Nursery locations provide for high juvenile growth resulting from macroalgal production not evident in maps of algal biomass, and they provide for low mortality compared with seemingly simi- lar surroundings. Therefore, critical habitats for queen conch juveniles are determined by the inter- section of habitat features and ecological processes that combine to yield high rates of recruitment and survivorship. While maps of bottom type are a good beginning for habitat management, they can be traps without good knowledge of ecological processes. A demersal species can occupy different substrata over its geographic range, different life stages often depend upon different bottom types, and specific locations can be more important than particular habitat forms. Habitat management must be designed to conserve habitat function and not just form. Implicit in the concept of ‘essential habitat’ is the fact that expendable habitat exists, and we need to prevent losses of working habitat because of inadequate protection, restoration or mitigation. Key nurseries may represent distinctive or even anomalous conditions.
For marine reserves to function as effective harvest refuges for exploited species, the reserve must protect a substantial proportion of the population for an indefinite period of time. Because most marine reserves are space-limited, the buildup and equilibrium population sizes of mobile species will be influenced by the size and boundary conditions of the refuge. A logistic rate model was used to predict equilibrium population sizes in a marine harvest refuge, based on species-specific dispersal dynamics and the spatial configuration of the refuge. The model parameters were derived for Caribbean spiny lobsters and queen conch in an isolated marine reserve at Glover’s Reef, Belize, and were compared to observed population change over a 5-yr period. Spiny lobsters and queen conch, the two most heavily exploited species in the Caribbean, differ in larval recruitment rates (immigration) and mobility of adults (emigration). The expected increase in the population size of spiny lobsters in this refuge was 250% and queen conch was 420% over that of the initial fished population. The observed densities of lobsters and conch in the refuge approached the predicted estimates within three years. To further explore the impact of alternative spatial configurations on refuge populations, the model was run on the same populations in two hypothetical refuges. In a refuge of the same area but 50% less absorbing boundary (adjacent to intensively fished areas), the spiny lobster population was expected to be 30% larger than the equilibrium population size in the original refuge, whereas the queen conch population was not expected to change from that in the original refuge. In a refuge that was 50% larger and with 50% less absorbing boundary, the spiny lobster population was expected to increase 110% and the queen conch population was expected to increase 50% over the equilibrium population size in the original refuge. Relatively minor changes in refuge area and boundary conditions may thus result in major population-level responses by exploited species, depending on dispersal dynamics and habitat availability. This simple model may be applicable for rapid assessment of the potential efficacy of proposed harvest refuges.
Reef fish have a pelagic larval stage and settle onto the reef before transitioning to their juvenile or adult morphologies. Settlement can be dangerous for new recruits and mortality is highest during the first one to two days after settlement. Experiments were conducted to determine the effects of predation and habitat depth on reef fish recruitment. Standard habitat units (SHUs) were created from pieces of Millepora skeleton. Two treatments were created using SHUs. The first contained an SHU placed on the substrate that was open to predation (NC). The second treatment contained an SHU in a wire cage to exclude predators (FC). Two replicates of each treatment were placed in two meters of water and at six meters. New recruits were surveyed twice a week for six weeks (n=11 surveys). SHUs were cleared of recruits and algal growth was removed after each census. Overall recruitment was greater in two meters than six meters of water. Recruitment was also greater in FC treatments than in NC treatments at both two and six meters. Trends in recruit density should not have been observed since recruit censuses were taken as replicates. However, recruitment increased over the course of the experiment, which coincided with the lunar cycle. Seven species of fish were observed over the course of the experiment but only two of these species, the wrasse, Halichoeres bivittatus, and the razorfish, Xyrichtys splendens, were observed at six meters. One species, the pufferfish Canthigaster rostrata, was only observed once.
Recruitment of the sea urchin Diadema antillarum philippi, 1845 was studied on artificial recruitment panels along the leeward coast of the island of Curaçao, southern Caribbean. data were compared with historical data from the same coast that were collected before (1982–1983) and after (1984) the Caribbean-wide mass mortality of Diadema in October 1983. Average recruitment rates observed in 2005 were equal to 2.2 times lower compared to those observed before the D. antillarum die-off (1982 and 1983), but 56.5 times higher than those observed after the die-off in 1984. The increase in recruitment rates between 1984 and 2005 was 5–51 times greater than the increase in abundance of adult individuals over the same period. This suggests that despite the largely recovered recruitment rates of this important reef herbivore, unknown sources of high post-settlement mortality currently prevent a similar recovery of its adult population.