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Remote areas are no havens for biodiversity, research finds – ScienceDaily

An international research team led by Associate Professor Giovanni Strona of the University of Helsinki has identified a general macroecological mechanism that calls for a reexamination of global conservation strategies.

“To truly understand how global change affects natural communities and to identify effective strategies to mitigate the ongoing dramatic loss of biodiversity, it is fundamental to consider the global complexity emerging from biotic interactions. As we show in our new research, this could reveal important counterintuitive mechanisms, ”says Giovanni Strona.

The researchers combined a massive dataset on the distribution of fish and the ecological characteristics of more than 9,000 species of fish. Using artificial intelligence techniques, they have generated thousands of networks mapping the interactions between corals and fish and those between prey fish and predatory fish in all reef locations around the world.

They quantified, for each locality, the degree of dependence of fish on corals. This analysis confirmed what Strona and his colleagues showed in another article published earlier this year: Coral loss could harm, on average, about 40% of fish species in each area of ​​coral reef.

Researchers have also found that the dependence between fish and corals grows stronger the further they move away from humans. This means that fish communities in remote reefs could be the most vulnerable to the cascading effects of coral mortality.

Critical vulnerability areas

Next, the researchers questioned whether the increased risk resulting from the potential cascading effects of coral mortality could counteract the benefits enjoyed by remote fish communities because they are removed from the direct impacts of human activities.

“To do this, we have designed a new risk assessment framework applicable to any ecosystem. It combines local anthropogenic impacts such as overfishing and pollution and global impacts such as climate and environmental change with the risk arising from ecological interactions ”, explains Mar Cabeza, head of the Global Change and Conservation Lab at the University of Helsinki.

The framework found that consideration of ecological dependencies flattens the expected negative relationship between extinction risk for fish communities and remoteness.

“For example, the risk hotspots for fish communities from local human-induced impacts and global change are almost perfectly the same as the risk hotspots from fish and coral addictions. This produces a global risk map for fish communities where no place is safe, regardless of distance from humans, ”says Giovanni Strona.

“The validity and relevance of these findings could extend far beyond reef fish, describing a world where remote locations, rather than refuges for biodiversity, could be, instead, areas of critical vulnerability. “, concludes Mar Cabeza.

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