Archaeological evidence of validity of fish populations on unexploited reefs as proxy targets for modern populations

Ken Longenecker, Yvonne L. Chan, Robert J. Toonen, David B. Carlon, Terry L. Hunt, Alan M. Friedlander, Edward E. Demartini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Reef-fish management and conservation is hindered by a lack of information on fish populations prior to large-scale contemporary human impacts. As a result, relatively pristine sites are often used as conservation baselines for populations near sites affected by humans. This space-for-time approach can only be validated by sampling assemblages through time. We used archaeological remains to evaluate whether the remote, uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) might provide a reasonable proxy for a lightly exploited baseline in the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). We used molecular and morphological techniques to describe the taxonomic and size composition of the scarine parrotfish catches present in 2 archaeological assemblages from the MHI, compared metrics of these catches with modern estimates of reproductive parameters to evaluate whether catches represented by the archaeological material were consistent with sustainable fishing, and evaluated overlap between size structures represented by the archaeological material and modern survey data from the MHI and the NWHI to assess whether a space-for-time substitution is reasonable. The parrotfish catches represented by archaeological remains were consistent with sustainable fishing because they were dominated by large, mature individuals whose average size remained stable from prehistoric (AD approximately 1400-1700) through historic (AD 1700-1960) periods. The ancient catches were unlike populations in the MHI today. Overlap between the size structure of ancient MHI catches and modern survey data from the NWHI or the MHI was an order of magnitude greater for the NWHI comparison, a result that supports the validity of using the NWHI parrotfish data as a proxy for the MHI before accelerated, heavy human impacts in modern times.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1322-1330
Number of pages9
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Ancient DNA
  • Fisheries exploitation
  • Parrotfishes
  • Scarinae
  • Shifting baselines
  • Space-for-time substitution
  • Zooarchaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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