Advancing Land-Sea Conservation Planning: Integrating Modelling of Catchments, Land-Use Change, and River Plumes to Prioritise Catchment Management and Protection

Last modified: 
August 30, 2016 - 1:00am
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2015
Date published: 12/2015
Authors: Jorge Álvarez-Romero, Robert Pressey, Natalie Ban, Jon Brodie
Journal title: PLOS ONE
Volume: 10
Issue: 12
Pages: e0145574

Human-induced changes to river loads of nutrients and sediments pose a significant threat to marine ecosystems. Ongoing land-use change can further increase these loads, and amplify the impacts of land-based threats on vulnerable marine ecosystems. Consequently, there is a need to assess these threats and prioritise actions to mitigate their impacts. A key question regarding prioritisation is whether actions in catchments to maintain coastal-marine water quality can be spatially congruent with actions for other management objectives, such as conserving terrestrial biodiversity. In selected catchments draining into the Gulf of California, Mexico, we employed Land Change Modeller to assess the vulnerability of areas with native vegetation to conversion into crops, pasture, and urban areas. We then used SedNet, a catchment modelling tool, to map the sources and estimate pollutant loads delivered to the Gulf by these catchments. Following these analyses, we used modelled river plumes to identify marine areas likely influenced by land-based pollutants. Finally, we prioritised areas for catchment management based on objectives for conservation of terrestrial biodiversity and objectives for water quality that recognised links between pollutant sources and affected marine areas. Our objectives for coastal-marine water quality were to reduce sediment and nutrient discharges from anthropic areas, and minimise future increases in coastal sedimentation and eutrophication. Our objectives for protection of terrestrial biodiversity covered species of vertebrates. We used Marxan, a conservation planning tool, to prioritise interventions and explore spatial differences in priorities for both objectives. Notable differences in the distributions of land values for terrestrial biodiversity and coastal-marine water quality indicated the likely need for trade-offs between catchment management objectives. However, there were priority areas that contributed to both sets of objectives. Our study demonstrates a practical approach to integrating models of catchments, land-use change, and river plumes with conservation planning software to inform prioritisation of catchment management.

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