MEPS 202:297-302 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps202297

Evidence for Allee effects in an over-harvested marine gastropod: density-dependent mating and egg production

Allan W. Stoner*, Melody Ray-Culp**

Caribbean Marine Research Center, Lee Stocking Island Field Station, Exuma Cays, Bahamas
Present addresses: *Fisheries Behavioral Ecology Program, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, 2030 S. Marine Science Dr, Newport, Oregon 97365, USA. E-mail: **The Environmental Learning Center, 255 Live Oak Dr, Vero Beach, Florida 32963, USA

ABSTRACT: Conservation programs often focus on studying extinction risks encountered by small populations and determining minimum population sizes below which they cannot recover. In certain cases, per capita rates of population growth become negative at low population density. This ŒAllee effect¹ (or Œdepensation¹) is rarely considered in marine systems. We conducted surveys of adult density, reproductive behavior, and spawning in natural populations of Caribbean queen conch Strombus gigas at 2 locations in the Exuma Cays, Bahamas, to test for Allee effects. Mating never occurred when density was <56 conch ha-1, and spawning never occurred at <48 conch ha-1, clearly demonstrating the operation of depensatory mechanisms. Reproductive behavior then increased rapidly to asymptotes at densities near 200 conch ha-1. Heavily exploited populations of queen conch in the Caribbean have been slow to recover despite fishery closures. Failure to recover could result from spawning stock densities that are reduced to the point at which Allee effects begin to operate on reproductive behavior.

KEY WORDS: Conservation · Depensation · Fisheries management · Reproduction · Spawning · Strombus gigas

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