Island restoration to rebuild seabird populations and amplify coral reef functioning

Ruth Dunn*, Cassandra E. Benkwitt, Olivier Maury, Nicolas Barrier, Peter Carr, Nicholas A. J. Graham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Mobile organisms like seabirds can provide important nutrient flows between ecosystems, but this connectivity has been interrupted by the degradation of island ecosystems. Island restoration (via invasive species eradications and the restoration of native vegetation) can reestablish seabird populations and their nutrient transfers between their foraging areas, breeding colonies, and adjacent nearshore habitats. Its diverse benefits are making island restoration increasingly common and scalable to larger islands and whole archipelagos. We identified the factors that influence breeding seabird abundances throughout the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean and conducted predictive modeling to estimate the abundances of seabirds that the archipelago could support under invasive predator eradication and native vegetation restoration scenarios. We explored whether the prey base exists to support restored seabird populations across the archipelago, calculated the nitrogen that restored populations of seabirds might produce via their guano, and modeled the cascading conservation gains that island restoration could provide. Restoration was predicted to increase breeding pairs of seabirds to over 280,000, and prey was predicted to be ample to support the revived seabird populations. Restored nutrient fluxes were predicted to result in increases in coral growth rates, reef fish biomasses, and parrotfish grazing and bioerosion rates. Given these potential cross-ecosystem benefits, our results support island restoration as a conservation priority that could enhance resilience to climatic change effects, such as sea-level rise and coral bleaching. We encourage the incorporation of our estimates of cross-ecosystem benefits in prioritization exercises for island restoration.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14313
JournalConservation Biology
Early online date18 Jun 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2024

Keywords

  • cross-ecosystem nutrients
  • ecological process
  • energetics
  • habitat restoration
  • invasive species
  • resilience
  • tropics

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