Monitoring program design for data‐limited marine biogenic habitats: A structured approach

Last modified: 
June 4, 2019 - 3:36pm
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Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2019
Date published: 05/2019
Authors: Tse‐Lynn Loh, Stephanie Archer, Anya Dunham
Journal title: Ecology and Evolution
ISSN: 2045-7758

Marine biogenic habitats—habitats created by living organisms—provide essential ecosystem functions and services, such as physical structuring, nutrient cycling, biodiversity support, and increases in primary, secondary, and tertiary production. With the growing trend toward ecosystem approaches to marine conservation and fisheries management, there is greater emphasis on rigorously designed habitat monitoring programs. However, such programs are challenging to design for data‐limited habitats for which underlying ecosystem processes are poorly understood. To provide guidance in this area, we reviewed approaches to benthic assessments across well‐studied marine biogenic habitats and identified common themes related to indicator selection, sampling methods, and survey design. Biogenic habitat monitoring efforts largely focus on the characteristics, distribution, and ecological function of foundation species, but may target other habitat‐forming organisms, especially when community shifts are observed or expected, as well as proxies of habitat status, such as indicator species. Broad‐scale methods cover large spatial areas and are typically used to examine the spatial configuration of habitats, whereas fine‐scale methods tend to be laborious and thus restricted to small survey areas, but provide high‐resolution data. Recent, emerging methods enhance the capabilities of surveying large areas at high spatial resolution and improve data processing efficiency, bridging the gap between broad‐ and fine‐scale methods. Although sampling design selection may be limited by habitat characteristics and available resources, it is critically important to ensure appropriate matching of ecological, observational, and analytical scales. Drawing on these common themes, we propose a structured, iterative approach to designing monitoring programs for marine biogenic habitats that allows for rigorous data collection to inform management strategies, even when data and resource limitations are present. A practical application of this approach is illustrated using glass sponge reefs—a recently discovered and data‐limited habitat type—as a case study.

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