An ecosystem ecology perspective on artificial reef production.
Artificial reefs are used around the world for many purposes, including widespread deployment to increase fishery yields. These reefs are well-studied from a direct fisheries-based perspective, drawing largely on traditional theory and methodological approaches from population and community ecology. Here we provide an alternative perspective using basic tenets of ecosystem ecology. We focus largely on primary production, as this ecosystem process necessarily constrains the secondary production of fish and invertebrates. We use this ecosystem ecology viewpoint to examine the long-standing attraction/production question-do artificial reefs support 'new' fish production or simply attract individuals from other habitats? Central to this discussion is identifying ecological thresholds and self-reinforcing feedbacks. For example, biological or physical processes may facilitate reaching nutrient supply thresholds where fundamental ecological dynamics are shifted, such as enhanced seagrass allocation of resources to above-ground plant structures following aggregation of fish around reefs. Synthesis and applications. We propose that the scope for enhanced primary productivity (or other accelerated ecosystem processes) is an under-utilized guideline that can be used to prioritize artificial reef deployment as part of broader coastal management programmes. Such an ecosystem ecology perspective may provide new insights into the ecological role of artificial reefs and guide the optimization of their deployment and management.