Meta-Analysis Reveals Artificial Reefs Can Be Effective Tools for Fish Community Enhancement but Are Not One-Size-Fits-All
Approaches toward habitat conservation and restoration often include supplementing or enhancing existing, degraded, or lost natural habitats. In aquatic environments, a popular approach toward habitat enhancement is the introduction of underwater human-made structures or artificial reefs. Despite the nearly global prevalence of artificial reefs deployed to enhance habitat, it remains debated whether these structures function similarly to comparable natural reefs. To help resolve this question, we conducted a literature review and accompanying meta-analysis of fish community metrics on artificial reefs within the coastal ocean and made comparisons with naturally-occurring reference reefs (rocky reefs and coral reefs). Our findings from a synthesis of 39 relevant studies revealed that, across reef ecosystems, artificial reefs support comparable levels of fish density, biomass, species richness, and diversity to natural reefs. Additional analyses demonstrated that nuances in these patterns were associated with the geographic setting (ocean basin, latitude zone) and artificial reef material. These findings suggest that, while artificial reefs can mimic natural reefs in terms of the fish assemblages they support, artificial reefs are not one-size-fits-all tools for habitat enhancement. Instead, artificial reefs should be considered strategically based on location-specific scientific assessments and resource needs to maximize benefits of habitat enhancement.