Climate change, coral loss, and the curious case of the parrotfish paradigm: Why don't MPAs improve reef resilience?


Friday, 14 December, 2018 -
12:00 to 13:00


UNSW AGSM Building, Pioneer Theatre


Evolution and Ecology Research Centre

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Scientists have advocated for local interventions, such as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and fisheries restrictions, as tools to mitigate local stressors to limit the effects of climate change on reef-building corals and increase resilience. However, in a literature review, we find little empirical support for this notion of  "managed resilience". We outline some reasons for why MPAs and herbivorous fish (especially parrotfish) protection have had little effect on coral resilience. One key explanation is that impacts of local stressors (e.g., pollution and fishing) are often swamped by the much greater effect of ocean warming on corals. Another is the sheer complexity (including numerous context dependencies) of the five cascading links assumed by the managed resilience hypothesis. If reefs cannot be saved by local actions, it is time to face reef degradation head-on, by directly addressing anthropogenic climate change: the root cause of global coral decline.



John Bruno is a marine ecologist and Professor in the Department of Biology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA. John grew up on the ocean in south Florida and came to UNC in 2001 after a post doc at Cornell University and a PhD at Brown University where he worked on the ecology of coastal plant communities. His research is focused on marine biodiversity, particularly the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems. He works primarily at regional or global scales.Beyond documenting doom-and-gloom, the Bruno lab works on understanding how human activities alter the structure and functioning of marine food web and what local conservation strategies are effective in mitigating these impacts. John works closely with NGOs and congressional staff on legislative issues related to ocean conservation. He is a dedicated science communicator: John blogs at, writes for major news outlets including the Washington Post, makes very amateur videos, and gives public talks about ocean critters and marine conservation. At UNC John teaches Marine Ecology and Seafood Forensics and leads the college's QEP-CURE (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience) leadership team that is developing, implementing, and evaluating innovative and interdisciplinary research courses.

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