The connected nature of social-ecological systems has never been more apparent than in today's globalized world. The ecosystem service framework and associated ecosystem assessments aim to better inform the science–policy response to sustainability challenges. Such assessments, however, often overlook distant, diffuse and delayed impacts that are critical for global sustainability. Ecosystem-services science must better recognise the off-stage impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services of place-based ecosystem management, which we term 'ecosystem service burdens'. These are particularly important since they are often negative, and have a potentially significant effect on ecosystem management decisions. Ecosystem-services research can better recognise these off-stage burdens through integration with other analytical approaches, such as life cycle analysis and risk-based approaches that better account for the uncertainties involved. We argue that off-stage ecosystem service burdens should be incorporated in ecosystem assessments such as those led by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Taking better account of these off-stage burdens is essential to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of cross-scale interactions, a pre-requisite for any sustainability transition.
Studies of habitat selection by higher trophic level species are necessary for using top predator species as indicators of ecosystem functioning. However, contrary to terrestrial ecosystems, few habitat selection studies have been conducted at a fine scale for coastal marine top predator species, and fewer have coupled diet data with habitat selection modeling to highlight a link between prey selection and habitat use.
The aim of this study was to characterize spatially and oceanographically, at a fine scale, the habitats used by the European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis in the Special Protection Area (SPA) of Houat-Hœdic in the Mor Braz Bay during its foraging activity. Habitat selection models were built using in situ observation data of foraging shags (transect sampling) and spatially explicit environmental data to characterize marine benthic habitats. Observations were first adjusted for detectability biases and shag abundance was subsequently spatialized. The influence of habitat variables on shag abundance was tested using Generalized Linear Models (GLMs). Diet data were finally confronted to habitat selection models.
Results showed that European shags breeding in the Mor Braz Bay changed foraging habitats according to the season and to the different environmental and energetic constraints. The proportion of the main preys also varied seasonally. Rocky and coarse sand habitats were clearly preferred compared to fine or muddy sand habitats. Shags appeared to be more selective in their foraging habitats during the breeding period and the rearing of chicks, using essentially rocky areas close to the colony and consuming preferentially fish from the Labridae family and three other fish families in lower proportions. During the post-breeding period shags used a broader range of habitats and mainly consumed Gadidae. Thus, European shags seem to adjust their feeding strategy to minimize energetic costs, to avoid intra-specific competition and to maximize access to suitable habitats and preys.
Effective management and conservation of wild populations requires knowledge of their habitats, especially by mean of quantitative analyses of their spatial distributions. The Pelagos Sanctuary is a dedicated marine protected area for Mediterranean marine mammals covering an area of 90,000 km2 in the north-western Mediterranean Sea between Italy, France and the Principate of Monaco. In the south of the Sanctuary, i.e. along the Sardinian coast, a range of diverse human activities (cities, industry, fishery, tourism) exerts several current ad potential threats to cetacean populations. In addition, marine mammals are recognized by the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive as essential components of sustainable ecosystems. Yet, knowledge on the spatial distribution and ecology of cetaceans in this area is quite scarce. Here we modeled occurrence of the three most abundant species known in the Sanctuary, i.e. the striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and the fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), using sighting data from scientific surveys collected from 2012 to 2014 during summer time. Bayesian site-occupancy models were used to model their spatial distribution in relation to habitat taking into account oceanographic (sea surface temperature, primary production, photosynthetically active radiation, chlorophyll-a concentration) and topographic (depth, slope, distance of the land) variables. Cetaceans responded differently to the habitat features, with higher occurrence predicted in the more productive areas on submarine canyons. These results provide ecological information useful to enhance management plans and establish baseline for future population trend studies.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are considered one of the main tools in both fisheries and conservation management to protect threatened species and their habitats around the globe. However, MPAs are underrepresented in marine environments compared to terrestrial environments. Within this context, we studied the Atlantic non-breeding distribution of the southern population of Balearic shearwaters (Puffinus mauretanicus) breeding in Eivissa during the 2011-2012 period based on global location sensing (GLS) devices. Our objectives were (1) to identify overall Important Atlantic Areas (IAAs) from a southern population, (2) to describe spatio-temporal patterns of oceanographic habitat use, and (3) to assess whether existing conservation areas (Natura 2000 sites and marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs)) cover the main IAAs of Balearic shearwaters. Our results highlighted that the Atlantic staging (from June to October in 2011) dynamic of the southern population was driven by individual segregation at both spatial and temporal scales. Individuals ranged in the North-East Atlantic over four main IAAs (Bay of Biscay: BoB, Western Iberian shelf: WIS, Gulf of Cadiz: GoC, West of Morocco: WoM). While most individuals spent more time on the WIS or in the GoC, a small number of birds visited IAAs at the extremes of their Atlantic distribution range (i.e., BoB and WoM). The chronology of the arrivals to the IAAs showed a latitudinal gradient with northern areas reached earlier during the Atlantic staging. The IAAs coincided with the most productive areas (higher chlorophyll a values) in the NE Atlantic between July and October. The spatial overlap between IAAs and conservation areas was higher for Natura 2000 sites than marine IBAs (areas with and without legal protection, respectively). Concerning the use of these areas, a slightly higher proportion of estimated positions fell within marine IBAs compared to designated Natura 2000 sites, with Spanish and Portuguese conservation areas being the most visited. Our results support the current design of conservation areas in Spain and Portugal regarding the protection of adult breeders of this highly mobile species.
Marine ecosystems are exposed to significant anthropogenic pressure mainly due to the exploitation of biotic and abiotic marine resources. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are important tools to achieve local and global marine conservation targets. Marine ecosystems generate goods and services vital for human well-being. Their value can be explored not only from an economic viewpoint based on market and human preferences, but also using a biophysical perspective based on the accounting of environmental costs sustained for the generation of natural capital stocks and ecosystem services flows.
In this study, the value of natural capital in the MPA “the Islands of Ventotene and S. Stefano” (Central Italy) was assessed applying a biophysical and trophodynamic environmental accounting model based on emergy accounting. The value of natural capital was estimated for the main habitats of the investigated MPA in terms of the work done by the biosphere for its generation and maintenance. Both the autotrophic and heterotrophic natural capital of the MPA was evaluated. The highest value of emergy density of 4.26∙1011 sej m−2 was shown by the habitat “Posidonia oceanica seagrass bed” when investigating the autotrophic natural capital. The sciaphilic hard bottom habitat (coralligenous) showed the highest value of emergy density of 2.76∙1012 sej m−2when investigating the heterotrophic natural capital. The high emergy cost of coralligenous confirmed the importance of this habitat that represents one of the most important hot spot of species diversity in the Mediterranean Sea. The total emergy value of natural capital of the MPA was converted to monetary units by using the emergy-to-money ratio for Italy, resulting in 8.26 M€. Finally, a GIS tool was used to show the spatial distribution of natural capital values in relation to different habitats. The outcomes of this study highlighted the usefulness of the applied biophysical and trophodynamic environmental accounting model to explore the ecological value of natural capital in marine ecosystems while supporting local managers and policy makers for the sustainable development of MPAs.
Fishery–independent surface density and abundance estimates for the swordfish were obtained through aerial surveys carried out over a large portion of the Central Mediterranean, implementing distance sampling methodologies. Both design- and model-based abundance and density showed an uneven occurrence of the species throughout the study area, with clusters of higher density occurring near converging fronts, strong thermoclines and/or underwater features. The surface abundance was estimated for the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals in the summer of 2009 (n=1152; 95%CI=669.0–1981.0; %CV=27.64), the Sea of Sardinia, the Pelagos Sanctuary and the Central Tyrrhenian Sea for the summer of 2010 (n=3401; 95%CI=2067.0–5596.0; %CV=25.51), and for the Southern Tyrrhenian Sea during the winter months of 2010–2011 ( n=1228; 95%CI=578–2605; %CV=38.59). The Mediterranean swordfish stock deserves special attention in light of the heavy fishing pressures. Furthermore, the unreliability of fishery–related data has, to date, hampered our ability to effectively inform long-term conservation in the Mediterranean Region. Considering that the European countries have committed to protect the resources and all the marine-related economic and social dynamics upon which they depend, the information presented here constitute useful data towards the international legal requirements under the Marine Strategy Framework Directory, the Common Fisheries Policy, the Habitats and Species Directive and the Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning, among the others.
In conservation prioritisation, it is often implicit that representation targets for individual habitat types act as surrogates for the species that inhabit them. Yet for many commercially and ecologically important coral reef fish species, connectivity among different habitats in a seascape may be more important than any single habitat alone. Approaches to conservation prioritisation that consider seascape connectivity are thus warranted. I demonstrate an approach that can be implemented within a relatively data-poor context, using widely available conservation planning software. Based on clearly stated assumptions regarding species’ habitat usage and movement ability, this approach can be adapted to different focal species and contexts, or refined as further data become available. I first derive a seascape connectivity metric based on area-weighted proximity between juvenile and adult habitat patches, and then apply this during spatial prioritisation using the decision-support software Marxan. Using a case study from Micronesia, I present two applications: first, to inform prioritisation for a network of marine protected areas to achieve regional objectives for habitat representation; and second, to identify nursery habitat patches that are most likely to supply juveniles to adult populations on reefs within existing protected areas. Incorporating seascape connectivity in conservation prioritisation highlights areas where small marine protected areas placed on coral reefs might benefit from proximity to other habitats in the seascape, and thus be more effective. Within the context of community tenure over resources, identification of critical nursery habitats to improve the effectiveness of existing marine protected areas indicates where collaboration across community boundaries might be required. Outputs from these analyses are likely to be most useful in regions where management is highly decentralised, imposing spatial constraints on the size of individual protected areas.
The Tampa Bay region of Florida exhibits the highest concentration of ornamental aquaculture facilities in the USA. Because of the diversity of aquaculture products (~800 species and varieties) and extensive production history (began in the 1930s and 1940s), this region could be a hotspot for escaped ornamental fish. We evaluated the scope of ornamental fish invasions in this region by examining (1) escape vectors and (2) the distribution of escaped fish. We investigated potential pathways of fish escape including theft/vandalism, fish transport, bird carry-off, and through effluent discharge. Fish were sampled at the effluent discharge and continued into the surrounding environment. The dominant escape vector was through farm effluents; there was no evidence that theft/vandalism, fish transport, or bird carry-off contributed to fish escape. Most captured fish were natives, especially the ubiquitous Eastern Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki). Ornamental species and varieties were also captured, especially cichlids and poeciliids such as the Green Swordtail (Xiphophorus hellerii) and Southern Platyfish (Xiphophorus maculatus). Ornamental fish were often found in the immediate vicinity of fish farms but were rarely captured in the surrounding environment. Catch per unit effort and ornamental fish diversity declined when moving away from the aquaculture facility effluent and was reduced at sites with a detention pond. The observed fish distribution might be due to relatively cold water in sub-tropical Florida, predatory fish in the environment, and additional factors related to the physical or biological habitat. Ultimately, few ornamental fishes have established in this region despite a long period of extensive culture.
Fisheries enhancement is an important strategy for maintaining and improving fisheries productivity, and addressing some of the other contemporary challenges facing marine ecosystems. Aquaculture-based enhancement includes stock enhancement, restocking, and sea ranching. Developments in aquaculture techniques, tagging, genetics, modelling and ecology have underpinned growth in this field in the 21st century, particularly in the context of marine recreational fisheries. Marine enhancement practice has now matured to the point that quantitative tools are frequently applied before any fish or shellfish are released into the natural environment, and pilot-scale enhancement scenarios and release strategies are evaluated before full implementation. Social and economic studies are also increasingly important components of this assessment. Here, several case studies from diverse geographic areas exemplify the union of aquaculture technology, quantitative modelling, social science, physiology and ecology to estimate enhancement potential, improve enhancement strategies, assess enhancement outcomes, and support adaptive management. Integrating aquaculture-based enhancement with habitat enhancement presents a remarkable opportunity for future research and development, and offers the potential to further increase the opportunities and associated socio-economic benefits that are available to a broad range of fisheries stakeholders.
Interest in restoring staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis has grown following the widespread decline of this species in recent decades. To date, thousands of nursery-reared A. cervicornis have been outplanted to restore degraded reefs, but survivorship and growth among outplanted colonies can be spatially variable. In particular, data on distribution of remnant wild populations and outplant performance in varying reef zones is lacking. To address this gap, we conducted a study to characterize existing wild populations and assess performance of nursery-reared, outplanted A. cervicornis among three reef zones of varying depth at Little Cayman Island: the shallow back reef (0–3 m), the intermediate spur-and-groove reef (8–15 m), and the deep reef terrace (>15 m). Wild populations of A. cervicorniswere present in each reef zone, and colony height and prevalence of predation by Stegastesspp. were highest in the intermediate zone. For outplanted A. cervicornis, survivorship differed among sites and was lowest for outplants in the deep zone during the 85-day observation period. Post-outplant growth and branching was lowest among outplants in the shallow zone due to high rates of colony breakage. Following the conclusion of the study, a mortality event occurred in which 90% of outplants at the shallow plots died during a period of elevated sea temperature. The information provided in this study suggests that intermediate spur-and-groove reefs are optimal for outplanting activities in Little Cayman using existing restoration methods. These data could be useful for coral restoration practitioners and government agencies in the Caribbean, particularly the Cayman Islands, which is actively expanding its coral nursery program. New strategies must be developed to improve restoration outcomes in shallow and deep zones.