Peter J. Mumby talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Fast Moving Front in the field of
Article: Mangroves enhance the biomass of coral
reef fish communities in the Caribbean
PJ;Edwards, AJ;Arias-Gonzalez, JE;Lindeman,
KC;Blackwell, PG;Gall, A;Gorczynska, MI;Harborne,
AR;Pescod, CL;Renken, H;Wabnitz, CCC;Llewellyn, G
Journal: NATURE, 427 (6974): 533-536 FEB 5 2004
Addresses: Univ Exeter, Sch Biol & Chem Sci, Marine
Spatial Ecol Lab, Prince Wales Rd, Exeter EX4 4PS, Devon,
Univ Exeter, Sch Biol & Chem Sci, Marine Spatial Ecol
Lab, Exeter EX4 4PS, Devon, England.
(addresses have been truncated)
Why do you think your paper is highly
The paper addresses an important issue in mangrove and coral reef ecology:
the degree to which coral reef fish populations are constrained by the
availability of mangrove nursery habitats. We took a large-scale approach
to investigate the question that spanned all four of the atolls within the
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
"We spent a week waiting for the
wind to die down so that we could brave the
Ivan Nagelkerken of the Department of Animal Ecology and Ecophysiology at
Radboud University in Nijmegen, had already done some nice work in Curacao
which implied that mangroves were very important for some species of reef
fish. His research inspired me to test the idea using a natural experiment
across Belize and some of Mexico. The experiment is "natural" in that we
could isolate entire ecosystems that have virtually no mangrove and compare
the fish communities to those with prolific mangrove (while also
controlling for other factors).
Would you summarize the significance of your paper in
If you snorkel in a mangrove lagoon, you'll see many juvenile coral reef
fish. Many of these fish move to coral reefs only when they've reached
adult size. The question is, if mangroves are removed to provide shrimp
ponds or hotels, will this affect the number of adult fish on the reef? I
actually expected to find the answer to be "not really" because many fish
can use other nursery habitats like seagrass beds. However, we actually
discovered that the answer is "Yes. Some fish species have less than half
the biomass when mangroves are scarce."
How did you become involved in this research and were
any particular problems encountered along the way?
I've worked in Belize since 1991 and realized that it offered a unique
opportunity to study this question because of its offshore (isolated)
reefs. The main problem was getting out to Banco Chinchorro in Mexico. We
spent a week waiting for the wind to die down so that we could brave the
ocean. On the last day we had available it really hadn't died down much at
all but we went for it. It was nearly a one-way trip but we did at last
make it back.
Where do you see your research leading in the
I've been working with
Jim Sanchirico, an Associate Professor in the
Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of
California at Davis, to develop bio-economic models that can be used to
place a value on mangrove habitats. We need to understand the importance
of different mangrove habitats in greater detail too.
Do you foresee any social or political implications for
Absolutely. Mangroves are being cleared at a faster rate than rainforests.
Action is needed to reduce clearance now. The research has already been
embraced by policymakers at the World Bank.
Professor Peter J Mumby
Marine Spatial Ecology Lab
University of Exeter
Royal Society Podcast: Dr. Peter J Mumby, "Climate Change - In My
Keywords: mangrove and coral reef ecology, coral reef
fish populations, mangrove nursery habitats, mangrove habitats, seagrass
beds, atolls within the Caribbean, Banco Chinchorro in Mexico.