Jihane Benbahtane

McGill University
The effect of fishing on parrotfish community structure and herbivory and its consequences on coral reef health

Jihane Benbahtane, Dr. Virginie Millien

Overfishing continuously degrades the state of coral reef ecosystems by disturbing food webs and increasing their vulnerability to natural disturbances. Parrotfish species are keystone reef herbivores which are essential in maintaining low macroalgal cover and removing dead and live coral. In the Caribbean, parrotfish, along various coral reef species, are heavily fished, which inevitably results in altered coral reef ecosystem function and community dynamics. Fishing is typically size-selective and extracts the largest individuals resulting in a reduction in relative abundance of larger body sized species, which has implications on the structure of reef communities. For instance, functions of bioerosion and removal of some types of macroalgae can only be fulfilled by some of the larger species, and depletion of the larger species through fishing can lead to alterations to the grazing capacity of the parrotfish community. Ideally, research on coral reef should elaborate on the ecological processes that have direct impacts on coral reef health, such as parrotfish herbivory and related dynamics. My research aims at determining the ecological impact of coral reef fishing on parrotfish community structure and grazing patterns and how a shift in parrotfish ecological function can affect the health of coastal reefs in Barbados. This study is a valuable opportunity to further the body of literature that can be used to guide critical decisions for coral reef management.