Moray eels are more common on coral reefs subject to higher human pressure in the greater Caribbean

Elsevier, iScience, Volume 24, 19 March 2021
Clementi G.M., Bakker J., Flowers K.I., Postaire B.D., Babcock E.A., Bond M.E. et al.

Proximity and size of the nearest market (‘market gravity’) have been shown to have strong negative effects on coral reef fish communities that can be mitigated by the establishment of closed areas. However, moray eels are functionally unique predators that are generally not subject to targeted fishing and should therefore not directly be affected by these factors. We used baited remote underwater video systems to investigate associations between morays and anthropogenic, habitat, and ecological factors in the Caribbean region. Market gravity had a positive effect on morays, while the opposite pattern was observed in a predator group subject to exploitation (sharks). Environmental DNA analyses corroborated the positive effect of market gravity on morays. We hypothesize that the observed pattern could be the indirect result of the depletion of moray competitors and predators near humans. Environmental science; ecology; biological sciences; zoology; animals; ethology