Detect coastal disturbances and climate change effects in coralligenous community through sentinel stations
This study was implemented to assess the Sessile Bioindicators in Permanent Quadrats (SBPQ) underwater environmental alert method. The SBPQ is a non-invasive and low-cost protocol; it uses sessile target species (indicators) to detect environmental alterations (natural or anthropic) at either the local or global (i.e., climate change) scale and the intrusion of invasive species. The SBPQ focuses on the monitoring of preselected sessile and sensitive benthic species associated with rocky coralligenous habitats using permanent quadrats in underwater sentinel stations. The selected target species have been well documented as bioindicators that disappear in the absence of environmental stability. However, whether these species are good indicators of stability or, in contrast, suffer variations in long-term coverage has not been verified. The purpose of this study was to assess the part of the method based on the hypothesis that, over a long temporal series in a highly structured and biodiverse coralligenous assemblage, the cover of sensitive sessile species does not change over time if the environmental stability characterising the habitat is not altered. Over a ten-year period (2005–2014), the sublittoral sessile biota in the Straits of Gibraltar Natural Park on the southern Iberian Peninsula was monitored at a 28 m-deep underwater sentinel stations. Analyses of the coverages of target indicator species (i.e., Paramuricea clavata and Astroides calycularis) together with other accompanying sessile organisms based on the periodic superimposition of gridded images from horizontal and vertical rocky surfaces allowed us to assess the effectiveness of the method. We conclude that no alterations occurred during the study period; only minimal fluctuations in cover were detected, and the method is reliable for detecting biological changes in ecosystems found in other geographical areas containing the chosen indicator species at similar dominance levels.