Human disturbance alters Pacific coral reef fish beta-diversity at three spatial scales

Date

2014-03-07

Authors

Wiwchar, Logan Douglas

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Abstract

Coral reefs are the most diverse marine ecosystem, but are increasingly threatened by local and global anthropogenic changes. In this thesis, I examine the impact of local stressors on the spatial variability of coral reef fish community composition by modeling the !-diversity of 35 islands across the Pacific Ocean that are characterized by either low or high human disturbance. By examining !-diversity across three spatial scales (within island, within island group, and across island group), and using null models to control for differences in alpha-diversity or abundance, I reveal previously undocumented effects of human disturbance on coral reef fish assemblages. At all scales, human disturbances alter !-diversity. At the largest-scale, islands with high human disturbance have lower incidence- and abundance-based !-diversity, consistent with biotic homogenization. This pattern was driven by both species with high and low abundances that differed across islands. At the smaller two scales (within islands or island groups), the presence of low abundance species is more variable on islands with high human disturbance (manifest in greater incidence-based !-diversity), but these islands have lower abundance-based !- diversity driven by moderately abundant and widespread species. Multivariate techniques show that islands with high human disturbance have a weaker species-environment relationship, and as such, I suggest that homogenization of coral reef fish assemblages by human disturbances is resulting in greater stochasticity of species composition.

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Keywords

biodiversity, biotic homogenization, coral reefs, fishes, beta diversity, human disturbance, fishing, null models, marine ecology

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