- Journal Article2017Alternative reproductive tactics and inverse size-assortment in a high-density fish spawning aggregationBMC Ecology, 17:10, DOI 10.1186/s12898-017-0120-5Download
PDF, 1.44 MB
Mating successfully at high densities often requires species to employ unusual reproductive tactics. We report unique courtship behaviours in an un shed, high-density spawning aggregation of squaretail groupers (Plectropomus areolatus) that are potentially associated with alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs). Aggregating males are typically known to court females in small territories (pair courtship), which is often associated with a pair-spawning tactic. However, we also observed the largest males simultaneously courting several females in mid-water shoals – a unique, high-cost-high-benefit courtship tactic which appears to result in a novel school-spawning tactic. Counter-intuitively we observed an inverse size- assortment in individuals–large males courted smaller females and vice-a-versa, likely linked to different pay- offs with competitive ability and local mate density. These unique, high-density behaviours are threatened to be lost, with increasing commercial fishing pressures on the P. areolatus aggregation.
- Journal Article2017Latitude and live coral cover independently affect butterflyfish & angelfish community distribution in the Andaman & Nicobar archipelago, IndiaMarine Biodiversity. DOI 10.1007/s12526-017-0790-4Download
PDF, 1.41 MB
Latitude and live coral cover independently affect Chaetodontid and Pomacanthid fish community distribution in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, India
Empirical evidence indicates that for two reef fish groups, chaetodontids and pomacanthids, live coral cover and latitude determine the local abundance and species richness patterns. Most studies have considered the influence of either live coral cover or latitude in isolation, and the interactive effects that are likely to influence the geographical distribution of species richness and diversity has not been explored. In this study we explored the relationship between (1) species richness and latitude, and (2) species richness and benthic variables, (3) species diversity and latitude and (4) species diversity and benthic variables for butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae) and angelfish (Pomacanthidae) at 75 sites across 51 islands in the Andaman and Nicobar (A & N) archipelago. A total of 30 species of chaetodontids belonging to four genera and 13 species of pomacanthids belonging to nine genera were recorded. We found that live coral cover and latitude were the best predictors for explaining variation in the distribution of these fish communities across the A & N archipelago. This is probably because of the high dependence of these two fish groups on the live coral cover and Nicobar’s geographical proximity to the Coral Triangle, which is considered to be the centre of origin of coral reefs and supports high biodiversity. Our results show that de- spite the high dependence of chaetodontids and pomacanthids on live coral cover, reduction of live coral cover due to a series of disturbance events had limited influence on species richness of these two fish groups, indicating that broad geographical trends are important in explaining variation in species richness for chaetodontid and pomacanthid fish groups.
- Journal Article2017Coping with catastrophe: foraging plasticity enables a benthic predator to survive in rapidly degrading coral reefsAnimal Behaviour, Vol 131: 13-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2017.07.010Download
PDF, 550 KB
Human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC) disproportionately affects species with specialist traits and long generation times. By circumventing prolonged evolutionary processes, behavioural plasticity is critical in allowing species to cope with rapid environmental changes within their lifetimes. Coral reefs have faced multiple mass mortality events of corals related to climate change in the last two decades. The consequent loss of structural complexity adversely impacts long-lived, structure-dependent fish predators. We attempted to determine how well a guild of groupers (Pisces: Epinephelidae) copes with rapid structural change in the lightly fished Lakshadweep Archipelago, Indian Ocean. Of the 15 species, territorial and site-attached groupers declined exponentially with decreasing structural complexity, while widely ranging species showed no change. However, one site-attached species, the peacock grouper, Cephalopholis argus, maintained high densities across the structural gradient. We explored the mechanisms this species employs to cope with declining habitat structure. Our observations indicate that both a potential release from specialist competitors and plasticity in foraging behaviour (foraging territory size, diet and foraging mode) appeared to favour the peacock grouper's survival in sites of high and low structure. While specialist competitors dropped out of the assemblage, the foraging territory size of peacock groupers increased exponentially with structural decline, but remained constant and compact (50 m2) above a threshold of structural complexity (corresponding to a canopy height of 60 cm). Interestingly, despite significant differences in prey density in sites of high and low structure, gut content and stable isotope analyses indicated that peacock groupers maintained a specialized dietary niche. In-water behavioural observations suggested that diet specialization was maintained by switching foraging modes from a structure-dependent ‘ambush’ to a structure-independent ‘widely foraging’ mode. The remarkable foraging plasticity of species such as the peacock grouper will become increasingly critical in separating winners from losers and may help preserve specialist ecosystem functions as habitats collapse as a result of climate change.
- Journal Article2016For traditional island communities in the Nicobar archipelago, complete no-go areas are the most effective form of marine managementFor traditional island communities, no-go areas are the most effective form of managementOcean & Coastal Management 133, 53-63 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2016.09.003Download
PDF, 1.16 MB
For traditional island communities in the Nicobar archipelago, complete no-go areas are the most effective form of marine management
The ability of local communities to sustainably manage natural resource harvests in coral reefs ecosystem depends heavily on the strength of traditional institutions. Coastal communities have evolved a suite of restrictive practices to control marine offtake and there is considerable recent evidence of their effec- tiveness in protecting and enhancing resource stocks. However, traditionally imposed restrictions can vary considerably in their complexity and in their functional effectiveness. The indigenous communities of the Nicobar Islands are dependent on marine resources for sustenance, managing them with a range of traditionally imposed restrictions. These include limited entry to certain locations, closed seasons and areas, and restrictions on species, size-classes of fish and fishing methods. We tested the relative effectiveness of protection in areas managed under different traditional control regimes by comparing the abundance and biomass of targeted fish groups in managed and unmanaged areas. Our results indicate that reef sites with the strictest form of restriction e essentially no-go areas e had significantly higher abundance and biomass values of most functional groups of fishes compared with partially protected and control locations. In contrast, targeted food fish stocks did not differ from control locations in partially protected sites managed with even complex forms of traditional management. Ensuring that traditional harvest rules are complied is critical to the success of any management system, and our re- sults suggest that they can be most strictly enforced in traditional no-go areas. Our work highlights the importance of critically evaluating the factors influencing traditional management systems to strengthen their ability to protect these reefs from unsustainable overharvest.
- Journal Article2016Homeward bound: fish larvae use dispersal corridors when settling on coral reefsNatural History Notes: Frontiers in Ecology and the EnvironmentDownload
PDF, 769 KB
- Journal Article2016"Choice" and destiny: The substrate composition and mechanical stability of settlement structures can mediate coral recruit fate in post-bleached reefsCoral Reefs. 35: 211-222
Increasingly frequent and intense ocean warming events seriously test the buffer and recovery capacities of tropical coral reefs. Post-disturbance, available settlement structures on a reef (often dead coral skeletons) vary considerably in their mechanical stability and substrate composition, critically influencing coral recruit settlement choice and fate. In the wake of a coral mass mortality in the Lakshadweep archipelago, we examine (1) the relative availability of recruit settlement structures (from stable to unstable: reef platform, dead massive coral, consolidated rubble, dead corymbose coral, dead tabular coral, and unconsolidated rubble) in 12 recovering reefs across three atolls in the archipelago, (2) the substrate composition [crustose coralline algae (CCA), mixed turf, macroalgae] of these structural forms, and (3) whether the choice and fate of young coral are mediated by the substrate and stability of different structural forms. For this, we measured the abundance and distribution of recruit (<1cm), juvenile (1–5 cm), and young adult (5–10) corals of 24 common coral genera. Four years after the mass mortality, reefs differed considerably in composition of settlement structures. The structures themselves varied significantly in substrate cover with dead tables largely covered in CCA [60 ± 6.05 % (SE)] and dead corymbose coral dominated by mixed turf (61.83 ± 3.8 %). The youngest visible recruits (<1 cm) clearly preferred CCA-rich structures such as dead massives and tables. However, older size classes were rarely found on unstable structures (strongly ‘‘avoiding’’ tables, Ivlev’s electivity index, E = -0.5). Our results indicate that while substrate cover might mediate coral choice, the mechanical stability of settlement structures is critical in determining post-settlement coral survival. The composition and availability of settlement structures on a reef may serve as a characteristic signature of its recovery potential, aiding in assessments of reef resilience.
- Journal Article2015Seagrass Herbivory Levels Sustain Site-Fidelity in a Remnant Dugong PopulationSeagrass Herbivory Levels Sustain Site- Fidelity in a Remnant Dugong PopulationPLoS ONE 10(10): e0141224. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141224Download
PDF, 624 KB
Seagrass Herbivory Levels Sustain Site-Fidelity in a Remnant Dugong Population
Herds of dugong, a largely tropical marine megaherbivore, are known to undertake long-dis- tance movements, sequentially overgrazing seagrass meadows in their path. Given their drastic declines in many regions, it is unclear whether at lower densities, their grazing is less intense, reducing their need to travel between meadows. We studied the effect of the feeding behaviour of a small dugong population in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, India to understand how small isolated populations graze seagrasses. In the seven years of our observation, all recorded dugongs travelled either solitarily or in pairs, and their use of seagrasses was limited to 8 meadows, some of which were persistently grazed. These meadows were relatively large, contiguous and dominated by short-lived seagrasses spe- cies. Dugongs consumed approximately 15% of meadow primary production, but there was a large variation (3–40% of total meadow production) in consumption patterns between meadows. The impact of herbivory was relatively high, with shoot densities c. 50% higher inside herbivore exclosures than in areas exposed to repeated grazing. Our results indicate that dugongs in the study area repeatedly graze the same meadows probably because the proportion of primary production consumed reduces shoot density to levels that are still above values that can trigger meadow abandonment. This ability of seagrasses to cope per- haps explains the long-term site fidelity shown by individual dugongs in these meadows. The fact that seagrass meadows in the archipelago are able to support dugong foraging requirements allows us to clearly identify locations where this remnant population persists, and where urgent management efforts can be directed.
- Journal Article2015Synchronous Spawning of the Sea CucumberHolothuria (Lessonothuria) pardalisSelenka, 1867 in the Andaman Archipelago, IndiaJournal of Bombay Natural History Society, 112 (2) 10.17087/jbnhs/2015/v112i2/104950
- Journal Article2015Fish community reassembly after a coral mass mortality: higher trophic groups are subject to increased rates of extinctionEcology Letters 18(5): 451–461Download
PDF, 893 KB
Since Gleason and Clements, our understanding of community dynamics has been influenced by theories emphasising either dispersal or niche assembly as central to community structuring. Determining the relative importance of these processes in structuring real-world communities remains a challenge. We tracked reef fish community reassembly after a catastrophic coral mortality in a relatively unfished archipelago. We revisited the stochastic model underlying MacArthur and Wilson’s Island Biogeography Theory, with a simple extension to account for trophic identity. Colonisation and extinction rates calculated from decadal presence-absence data based on (1) species neutrality, (2) trophic identity and (3) site-specificity were used to model post-disturbance reassembly, and compared with empirical observations. Results indicate that species neutrality holds within trophic guilds, and trophic identity significantly increases overall model performance. Strikingly, extinction rates increased clearly with trophic position, indicating that fish communities may be inherently susceptible to trophic downgrading even without targeted fishing of top predators.
- Journal Article2015Erosion of Traditional Marine Management Systems in the Face of Disturbances in the Nicobar ArchipelagoHuman Ecology, DOI 10.1007/s10745-015-9781-x
- Journal Article2015Sharing mechanisms in corporate groups may be more resilient to natural disasters than kin groups in the Nicobar IslandsHuman Ecology. 43:709-720
It has been suggested that kin groups are better predisposed to cooperatively manage essential natural resources than non-kin groups because of inclusive fitness gains. Whether these long-term genetic pay-offs sufficiently offset the immediate costs of cooperation in periods of scarcity is uncertain. We compared patterns of resource sharing across three island communities in the Nicobar Archipelago affected by the 2004 tsunami. While sharing mechanisms were similar across regions, group composition varied: Central and Southern Nicobar were organised along kinship lines, while Chowra was organised as corporate alliances of unrelated households. We documented post-tsunami losses and conflicts emerging in resource sharing after the event. While kin groups showed considerable breakdown in resource sharing arrangements, corporate communities in Chowra were much more resilient to change. Our results suggest that the more immediate reciprocity of corporate alliances may outweigh the potential benefits of inclusive fitness when faced with conditions of extreme resource scarcity.
- Journal Article2014Seagrasses in the age of sea turtle conservation and shark overfishingFrontiers in Marine Science 1:28. doi: 10.3389/fmars. 2014.00028.Download
PDF, 1.95 MB
Efforts to conserve globally declining herbivorous green sea turtles have resulted in promising growth of some populations. These trends could significantly impact critical ecosystem services provided by seagrass meadows on which turtles feed. Expanding turtle populations could improve seagrass ecosystem health by removing seagrass biomass and preventing of the formation of sediment anoxia. However, overfishing of large sharks, the primary green turtle predators, could facilitate turtle populations growing beyond historical sizes and trigger detrimental ecosystem impacts mirroring those on land when top predators were extirpated. Experimental data from multiple ocean basins suggest that increasing turtle populations can negatively impact seagrasses, including triggering virtual ecosystem collapse. Impacts of large turtle populations on seagrasses are reduced in the presence of intact shark populations. Healthy populations of sharks and turtles, therefore, are likely vital to restoring or maintaining seagrass ecosystem structure, function, and their value in supporting fisheries and as a carbon sink.
- Journal Article2014Positive interactions between Irrawaddy dolphins and artisanal fishers in the Chilika Lagoon of eastern India are driven by ecology, socio-economics and cultureAmbio
In human-dominated landscapes, interactions and perceptions towards wildlife are influenced by multi- dimensional drivers. Understanding these drivers could prove useful for wildlife conservation. We surveyed the attitudes and perceptions of fishers towards threatened Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) at Chilika Lagoon India. To validate the drivers of fisher perceptions, we : (1) observed dolphin foraging behavior at stake nets, and (2) compared catch per unit effort (CPUE) and catch income of fishers from stake nets in the presence and absence of foraging dolphins. We found that fishers were mostly positive towards dolphins, believing that dolphins augmented their fish catch and using culture to express their perceptions. Foraging dolphins were observed spending half their time at stake nets and were associated with significantly higher catch income and CPUE of mullet (Liza sp.), a locally preferred food fish species. Wildlife conservation efforts should use the multidimensional drivers of human–wildlife interactions to involve local stakeholders in management.
- Journal Article2014Long-lived benthic predators require structurally stable reefs in the face of repeated climate-change disturbancesCoral Reefs. 33: 289-302
Benthic recovery from climate-related disturbances does not always warrant a commensurate functional recovery for reef-associated fish communities. Here, we examine the distribution of benthic groupers (family Serranidae) in coral reef communities from the Lakshadweep archipelago (Arabian Sea) in response to structural complexity and long-term habitat stability. These coral reefs that have been subject to two major El Nin ̃o Southern Oscillation-related coral bleaching events in the last decades (1998 and 2010). First, we employ a long-term (12-yr) benthic- monitoring dataset to track habitat structural stability at twelve reef sites in the archipelago. Structural stability of reefs was strongly driven by exposure to monsoon storms and depth, which made deeper and more sheltered reefs on the eastern aspect more stable than the more exposed (western) and shallower reefs. We surveyed groupers (species richness, abundance, biomass) in 60 sites across the entire archipelago, representing both exposures and depths. Sites were selected along a gradient of structural complexity from very low to high. Grouper biomass appeared to vary with habitat stability with significant differences between depth and exposure; sheltered deep reefs had a higher grouper biomass than either sheltered shallow or exposed (deep and shallow) reefs. Species richness and abundance showed similar (though not significant) trends. More interestingly, average grouper biomass increased exponentially with structural complexity, but only at the sheltered deep (high stability) sites, despite the availability of recovered structure at exposed deep and shallow sites (lower-stability sites). This trend was especially pronounced for long-lived groupers (life span [10 yrs). These results suggest that long-lived groupers may prefer temporally stable reefs, independent of the local availability of habitat structure. In reefs subject to repeated disturbances, the presence of structurally stable reefs may be critical as refuges for functionally important, long-lived species like groupers.
- Journal Article2013Greener pastures? High-density feeding aggregations of green turtles precipitate species shifts in seagrass meadowsJournal of Ecology. 101: 1158-1168
1. Historical declines of marine megaherbivores have led to a view of seagrass communities structured largely by abiotic disturbance and plant competition. There is, however, growing recognition of the significance of top-down control through herbivory, on seagrass ecosystem processes, raising the question of how meadows functioned under historically high populations of megaherbivores. 2. We assess the impacts of such intense herbivory on seagrass meadow composition in the Lakshadweep islands (India), where high-density feeding aggregations of green turtles have persisted for over a decade. We use a series of complementary approaches: (i) natural herbivory exclosures (ii) published data on seagrass composition before and after turtles established (at one atoll: Agatti) and (iii) present species composition along a turtle herbivory gradient over multiple atolls.
...to read more, download the full paper
- Journal Article2013Long-Term occupancy trends in a data-poor dugong population in the Andaman and Nicobar ArchipelagoPLoS One. 8(10): e76181
Prioritizing efforts for conserving rare and threatened species with limited past data and lacking population estimates is predicated on robust assessments of their occupancy rates. This is particularly challenging for elusive, long-lived and wide- ranging marine mammals. In this paper we estimate trends in long-term (over 50 years) occupancy, persistence and extinction of a vulnerable and data-poor dugong (Dugong dugon) population across multiple seagrass meadows in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago (India). For this we use hierarchical Bayesian dynamic occupancy models accounting for false negatives (detection probability,1), persistence and extinction, to two datasets: a) fragmentary long-term occurrence records from multiple sources (1959–2004, n = 40 locations), and b) systematic detection/non-detection data from current surveys (2010–2012, n = 57). Dugong occupancy across the archipelago declined by 60% (from 0.45 to 0.18) over the last 20 years and present distribution was largely restricted to sheltered bays and channels with seagrass meadows dominated by Halophila and Halodule sp. Dugongs were not found in patchy meadows with low seagrass cover. In general, seagrass habitat availability was not limiting for dugong occupancy, suggesting that anthropogenic factors such as entanglement in gillnets and direct hunting may have led to local extinction of dugongs from locations where extensive seagrass meadows still thrive. Effective management of these remnant dugong populations will require a multi-pronged approach, involving 1) protection of areas where dugongs still persist, 2) monitoring of seagrass habitats that dugongs could recolonize, 3) reducing gillnet use in areas used by dugongs, and 4) engaging with indigenous/settler communities to reduce impacts of hunting.
- Journal Article2013Opportunistic exploitation: an overlooked pathway to extinctionTrends in Ecology and Evolution. 28(7): 409-413Download
PDF, 951 KB
How can species be exploited economically to extinction? Past single-species hypotheses examining the economic plausibility of exploiting rare species have argued that the escalating value of rarity allows extinction to be profitable. We describe an alternative pathway toward extinction in multispecies exploitation systems, termed ‘opportunistic exploitation’. In this mode, highly valued species that are targeted first by fishing, hunting, and logging become rare, but their populations can decline further through opportunistic exploitation while more common but less desirable species are targeted. Effectively, expanding exploitation to more species subsidizes the eventual extinction of valuable species at low densities. Managers need to recognize conditions that permit opportunistic depletion and pass regulations to protect highly desirable species when exploitation can expand to other species.
- Journal Article2013Complex ecological pathways underlie perceptions of conflict between green turtles and fishers in the Lakshadweep Islands.Biological Conservation 167: 25-34
Managing human–wildlife conflict is often complicated by apparent mismatches between community perceptions and measures of directly incurred losses. Fishers in Agatti Island (Lakshadweep, India) associate recent increases in green turtle (Chelonia mydas) populations with declining fish catches, resulting in targeted killing of turtles. We compared fisher perceptions in Agatti with a very similar atoll, Kadmat, with much lower turtle densities. Nearly 90% of Agatti fishers interviewed blamed turtles for declining catch compared with 20% in Kadmat and proposed two mechanisms for this decline: direct interference (e.g., turtles damaged gear) which we define as first order conflict, and indirect mechanisms (second order conflict): turtles overgrazed seagrasses, thereby reducing fish catch. We evaluated the magnitude of gear loss with interviews and tested proposed indirect mechanisms with a turtle density gradient, before–after comparisons (taking advantage of an increase in turtles in Kadmat and concurrent decrease in Agatti) and a natural herbivore exclosure. These complementary approaches supported fisher-pro- posed second-order mechanisms: at high densities, turtles heavily grazed seagrasses, significantly reduced canopy heights, lowered fish recruit abundance, food fish biomass and catch. Estimates of losses incurred in Agatti show that first-order conflict cost fishers USD 0.6 fisher-1 year1, while second-order pathways accounted for USD 887 fisher-1 year-1. Our results show that local perceptions are fueled by often-complex mechanisms that, though not always straightforward to measure, are very important in generating conflict. Reconciling the human–wildlife interface requires an adequate accounting of direct and indirect mechanisms to more completely reflect true losses communities bear for living with wildlife.
- Journal Article2013Green turtle herbivory dominates the fate of seagrass primary production in the Lakshadweep islands (Indian Ocean)Marine Ecology Progress Series. 485:235-243
Historical global declines of megaherbivores from marine ecosystems have hitherto contributed to an understanding of seagrass meadow production dominated by detrital path- ways — a paradigm increasingly being questioned by recent re-evaluations of the importance of herbivory. Recoveries in green turtle populations at some locations provide an ideal opportunity to examine effects of high megaherbivore densities on the fate of seagrass production. We conducted direct field measurements of aboveground herbivory and shoot elongation rates in 9 seagrass meadows across 3 atolls in the Lakshadweep Archipelago (India) representing a gradient of green turtle densities. Across all meadows, green turtles consumed an average of 60% of the total leaf growth. As expected, herbivory rates were positively related to turtle density and ranged from being almost absent in meadows with few turtles, to potentially overgrazed meadows (ca. 170% of leaf growth) where turtles were abundant. Turtle herbivory also substantially reduced shoot elongation rates. Simulated grazing through clipping experiments confirmed this trend: growth rates rapidly declined to almost half in clipped plots relative to control plots. At green turtle den- sities similar to historical estimates, herbivory not only dominated the fate of seagrass primary pro- duction but also drastically reduced production rates in grazed meadows. Intensive turtle grazing and associated movement could also modify rates of detrital cycling, leaf export and local carbon burial, with important consequences for the entire seascape.
- Journal Article2012Distance-related thresholds and influence of the 2004 tsunami on damage and recovery patterns of coral reefs in the Nicobar IslandsCurrent Science 102:1199–1205
The earthquake and tsunami of 2004 resulted in the devastation of marine and coastal ecosystems across the Indian Ocean. However, without adequate baseline information it has been difficult to properly gauge its full impact. The reefs of the Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal lie on a path that ranges from 190 to 500 km from Banda Aceh, the epicentre of the 2004 tsunami. In 2008, we recorded benthic damage as a result of the tsunami to reefs off 14 Nicobar Islands across a gradient of distance from the epicentre. A clear pattern was observed in the demographic structure of the most abundant coral genera, Acropora and Porites across the distance gradient. Significantly, for the largest coral individuals of both genera (> 50 cm diameter), there were distinct threshold effects – their abundance declining dramatically in reefs closer than 350 km from the epicentre. Corals between 20 and 50 cm diameter also increased with distance from the epicentre, but in a more linear fashion. Smaller size classes either showed no apparent trend (Acropora) or decreased linearly (Porites) with distance. These gen- era represent very different life-history strategies: Acropora is fast-growing and highly susceptible to a range of disturbances, while Porites typically grows slowly but is resistant to disturbance. The fact that both genera showed similar thresholds indicates that, close to the epicentre, the impact of the earthquake and tsunami was large enough to override any species- specific resistance. Also, algal cover was also much higher than at locations further north, linked to higher coral mortality at these locations. However, the fact that smaller size class coral individuals were rela- tively abundant and even increased close to the ep centre indicates possible paths of reef recovery after the catastrophe.