The variety of biodiversity present on coral reefs is greater than in any other marine ecosystem despite reefs being present on only 0.1% of the world’s oceans. Of the 33 phyla present on Earth, 32 of them can be found on coral reefs and 15 of the 32 are found exclusively in coral reef ecosystems (Bryant et al., 1998). These ecosystems represent essential spawning, nursery, and feeding grounds for over 25% of total marine biodiversity (Bryant et al., 1998). Twelve percent of all marine fisheries are directly or indirectly reliant on coral reef ecosystems in addition to over 4,000 species of fish, an abundance of macrofauna (e.g. sharks, whales, sea turtles, etc.), and invertebrates, not to mention, the coral reef microbiome.
Humans receive multiple benefits from coral reef ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity has significant implications for coastal communities and reef-dependent economies. An eight-year study in Papua New Guinea found that a decline in coral cover can parallel declines in fish biodiversity in both marine reserves and highly degraded areas (Jones et al., 2004). Those species that rely more heavily on coral reefs in one or more of their life stages experienced even larger losses causing some species to even go locally extinct (Jones et al., 2004). Biodiversity loss can also affect the functioning of an ecosystem.
The ecological importance of biodiversity in maintaining ecosystem stability and function has been widely studied (Tilman 1996, Tilman et al. 1997, Worm et al. 2006, Worm and Duffy 2003). The effect of species richness on ecosystem functioning such as the recycling of energy and nutrients is a rapidly developing field of ecology. If ecological functioning is found to be significan...
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...s, manta rays, humphead wrasse and bumphead parrotfish (US Fish and Wildlife Service, n.d.; Howard, 2014). Additionally, Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef support approximately 180-190 coral species making them the most diverse reef ecosystem in the central Pacific (PRIMNM, n.d.). Coral disease was found to be less prevalent and coral recruitment was found to be higher relative to human-dominated reefs. Kingman Reef also supports a greater proportion of apex predators than other coral reef ecosystems studied (Sandin et al., 2008). The reefs surrounding Howland, Baker, and Islands are especially productive because they benefit from the cool, nutrient-rich waters brought to the surface through equatorial upwelling. In addition, the islands have provided a pathway for the colonization and dispersion of species across the Pacific Ocean (US Fish and Wildlife Service, n.d.).
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