Measuring marine fish biodiversity: temporal changes in abundance, life history and demography

Jeffrey A Hutchings, Julia K Baum

Abstract

Patterns in marine fish biodiversity can be assessed by quantifying temporal variation in rate of population change, abundance, life history and demography concomitant with long-term reductions in abundance. Based on data for 177 populations (62 species) from four north-temperate oceanic regions (Northeast Atlantic and Pacific, Northwest Atlantic, North mid-Atlantic), 81% of the populations in decline prior to 1992 experienced reductions in their rate of loss thereafter; species whose rate of population decline accelerated after 1992 were predominantly top predators such as Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), sole (Solea solea) and pelagic sharks. Combining population data across regions and species, marine fish have declined 35% since 1978 and are currently less than 70% of recorded maxima; demersal species are generally at historic lows, pelagic species are generally stable or increasing in abundance. Declines by demersal species have been associated with substantive increases in pelagic species, a pattern consistent with the hypothesis that increases in the latter may be attributable to reduced predation mortality. There is a need to determine the consequences to population growth effected by the reductions in age (21%) and size (13%) at maturity and in mean age (5%) and size (18%) of spawners, concomitant with population decline. We conclude that reductions in the rate of population decline, in the absence of targets for population increase, will be insufficient to effect a recovery of marine fish biodiversity, and that great care must be exercised when interpreting multi-species patterns in abundance. Of fundamental importance is the need to explain the geographical, species-specific and habitat biases that pervade patterns of marine fish recovery and biodiversity.

Footnotes

  • One contribution of 19 to a Discussion Meeting issue ‘Beyond extinction rates: monitoring wild nature for the 2010 target’.

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