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Interactive effects of predator and prey harvest on ecological resilience of rocky reefs

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A major goal of ecosystem-based fisheries management is to prevent fishery-induced shifts in community states. This requires an understanding of ecological resilience: the ability of an ecosystem to return to the same state following a perturbation, which can strongly depend on species interactions across trophic levels. We use a structured model of a temperate rocky reef to explore how multi-trophic level fisheries impact ecological resilience. Increasing fishing mortality of prey (urchins) has a minor effect on equilibrium biomass of kelp, urchins, and spiny lobster predators, but increases resilience by reducing the range of predator harvest rates at which alternative stable states are possible. Size-structured predation on urchins acts as the feedback maintaining each state. Our results demonstrate that the resilience of ecosystems strongly depends on the interactive effects of predator and prey harvest in multi-trophic level fisheries, which are common in marine ecosystems but are unaccounted for by traditional management.

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