Overexploitation is a major threat for the integrity of marine ecosystems. Understanding the ecological consequences of different extractive practices and the mechanisms underlying the recovery of populations is essential to ensure sustainable management plans. Precious corals are long-lived structural invertebrates, historically overfished, and their conservation is currently a worldwide concern. However, the processes underlying their recovery are poorly known. Here, we examined harvesting effects and recovery mechanisms of red coral Corallium rubrum by analyzing long-term photographic series taken on two populations that were harvested. We compared the relative importance of reproduction and re-growth as drivers of resilience. Harvesting heavily impacted coral populations causing large decreases in biomass and strong size-class distribution shifts towards populations dominated by small colonies. At the end of the study (after 4 and 7 years) only partial recovery was observed. The observed general pattern of low recruitment and high mortality of new recruits demonstrated limited effects of reproduction on population recovery. Adversely, low mortality of partially harvested adults and a large proportion of colonies showing new branches highlighted the importance of re-growth in the recovery process. The demographic projections obtained through stochastic models confirmed that the recovery rates of C. rubrum can be strongly modulated depending on harvesting procedures. Thus, leaving the basal section of the colonies when harvesting to avoid total mortality largely enhances the resilience of C. rubrum populations and quickens their recovery. On the other hand, the high survival of harvested colonies and the significant biomass reduction indicated that abundance may not be an adequate metric to assess the conservation status of clonal organisms because it can underestimate harvesting effects. This study highlights the unsustainability of current harvesting practices of C. rubrum and provides urgently needed data to improve management practices that are still largely based on untested assumptions.
The susceptibility of reef-building corals to climatic anomalies is well documented and a cause of great concern for the future of coral reefs. Reef corals are normally considered to tolerate only a narrow range of climatic conditions with only a small number of species considered heat-tolerant. Occasionally however, corals can be seen thriving in unusually harsh reef settings and these are cause for some optimism about the future of coral reefs. Here we document for the first time a diverse assemblage of 225 species of hard corals occurring in the intertidal zone of the Bonaparte Archipelago, north western Australia. We compare the environmental conditions at our study site (tidal regime, SST and level of turbidity) with those experienced at four other more typical tropical reef locations with similar levels of diversity. Physical extremes in the Bonaparte Archipelago include tidal oscillations of up to 8 m, long subaerial exposure times (>3.5 hrs), prolonged exposure to high SST and fluctuating turbidity levels. We conclude the timing of low tide in the coolest parts of the day ameliorates the severity of subaerial exposure, and the combination of strong currents and a naturally high sediment regime helps to offset light and heat stress. The low level of anthropogenic impact and proximity to the Indo-west Pacific centre of diversity are likely to further promote resistance and resilience in this community. This assemblage provides an indication of what corals may have existed in other nearshore locations in the past prior to widespread coastal development, eutrophication, coral predator and disease outbreaks and coral bleaching events. Our results call for a re-evaluation of what conditions are optimal for coral survival, and the Bonaparte intertidal community presents an ideal model system for exploring how species resilience is conferred in the absence of confounding factors such as pollution.
Concern for the future of reef-building corals in conditions of rising sea temperatures combined with recent technological advances has led to a renewed interest in documenting the biodiversity of mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) and their potential to provide lineage continuation for coral taxa. Here, we examine species diversity of staghorn corals (genera Acropora and Isopora) in the mesophotic zone (below 30 m depth) of the Great Barrier Reef and western Coral Sea. Using specimen-based records we found 38 staghorn species in the mesophotic zone, including three species newly recorded for Australia and five species that only occurred below 30 m. Staghorn corals became scarce at depths below 50 m but were found growing in-situ to 73 m depth. Of the 76 staghorn coral species recorded for shallow waters (depth ≤ 30 m) in north-east Australia, 21% extended to mesophotic depths with a further 22% recorded only rarely to 40 m depth. Extending into the mesophotic zone provided shallow water species no significant advantage in terms of their estimated global range-size relative to species restricted to shallow waters (means 86.2 X 106 km2 and 85.7 X 106 km2 respectively, p = 0.98). We found four staghorn coral species at mesophotic depths on the Great Barrier Reef that were previously considered rare and endangered on the basis of their limited distribution in central Indonesia and the far western Pacific. Colonies below 40 m depth showed laterally flattened branches, light and fragile skeletal structure and increased spacing between branches and corallites. The morphological changes are discussed in relation to decreased light, water movement and down-welling coarse sediments. Staghorn corals have long been regarded as typical shallow-water genera, but here we demonstrate the significant contribution of this group to the region’s mesophotic fauna and the importance of considering MCEs in reef biodiversity estimates and management.
Understanding the influence of synergisms on natural processes is a critical step toward determining the full-extent of anthropogenic stressors. As carbon emissions continue unabated, two major stressors—warming and acidification—threaten marine systems on several scales. Here, we report that a moderate temperature increase (from 30°C to 32°C) is sufficient to slow— even hinder—the ability of dissolved organic matter, a major carbon pool, to self-assemble to form marine microgels, which contribute to the particulate organic matter pool. Moreover, acidification lowers the temperature threshold at which we observe our results. These findings carry implications for the marine carbon cycle, as self-assembled marine microgels generate an estimated global seawater budget of ~1016 g C. We used laser scattering spectroscopy to test the influence of temperature and pH on spontaneous marine gel assembly. The results of independent experiments revealed that at a particular point, both pH and temperature block microgel formation (32°C, pH 8.2), and disperse existing gels (35°C). We then tested the hypothesis that temperature and pH have a synergistic influence on marine gel dispersion. We found that the dispersion temperature decreases concurrently with pH: from 32°C at pH 8.2, to 28°C at pH 7.5. If our laboratory observations can be extrapolated to complex marine environments, our results suggest that a warming–acidification synergism can decrease carbon and nutrient fluxes, disturbing marine trophic and trace element cycles, at rates faster than projected.
Understanding the effects of environmental change on ecosystems requires the identification of baselines that may act as reference conditions. However, the continuous change of these references challenges our ability to define the true natural status of ecosystems. The so-called sliding baseline syndrome can be overcome through the analysis of quantitative time series, which are, however, extremely rare. Here we show how combining historical quantitative data with descriptive ‘naturalistic’ information arranged in a chronological chain allows highlighting long-term trends and can be used to inform present conservation schemes. We analysed the long-term change of a coralligenous reef, a marine habitat endemic to the Mediterranean Sea. The coralligenous assemblages of Mesco Reef (Ligurian Sea, NW Mediterranean) have been studied, although discontinuously, since 1937 thus making available both detailed descriptive information and scanty quantitative data: while the former was useful to understand the natural history of the ecosystem, the analysis of the latter was of paramount importance to provide a formal measure of change over time. Epibenthic assemblages remained comparatively stable until the 1990s, when species replacement, invasion by alien algae, and biotic homogenisation occurred within few years, leading to a new and completely different ecosystem state. The shift experienced by the coralligenous assemblages of Mesco Reef was probably induced by a combination of seawater warming and local human pressures, the latter mainly resulting in increased water turbidity; in turn, cumulative stress may have favoured the establishment of alien species. This study showed that the combined analysis of quantitative and descriptive historical data represent a precious knowledge to understand ecosystem trends over time and provide help to identify baselines for ecological management.
For many species securing territories is important for feeding and reproduction. Factors such as competition, habitat availability, and male characteristics can influence an individual’s ability to establish and maintain a territory. The risk of predation can have an important influence on feeding and reproduction; however, few have studied its effect on territoriality. We investigated territoriality in a haremic, polygynous species of coral reef herbivore, Sparisoma aurofrenatum (redband parrotfish), across eight reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that were either protected or unprotected from fishing of piscivorous fishes. We examined how territory size and quality varied with reef protection status, competition, predation risk, and male size. We then determined how territory size and quality influenced harem size and female size to understand the effect of territoriality on reproductive potential. We found that protected reefs trended towards having more large predatory fishes and that territories there were smaller but had greater algal nutritional quality relative to unprotected reefs. Our data suggest that even though males in protected sites have smaller territories, which support fewer females, they may improve their reproductive potential by choosing nutritionally rich areas, which support larger females. Thus, reef protection appears to shape the trade-off that herbivorous fishes make between territory size and quality. Furthermore, we provide evidence that males in unprotected sites, which are generally less complex than protected sites, choose territories with higher structural complexity, suggesting the importance of this type of habitat for feeding and reproduction in S. aurofrenatum. Our work argues that the loss of corals and the resulting decline in structural complexity, as well as management efforts to protect reefs, could alter the territory dynamics and reproductive potential of important herbivorous fish species.
Table of Contents:
- Sound and regular monitoring is essential to effective MPA management;
- Monitoring should focus on protected features, pressures and socioeconomic effects of conservation measures;
- Most existing MPA monitoring programmes are still scarce, short-term, poorly funded and inconsistent;
- Partnering with research institutions, securing monitoring funds and citizen science can help to streamline MPA monitoring efforts.
The marine waters surrounding La Jolla, California have a diverse array of habitats and include several marine protected areas (MPAs). We compiled a list of the fish species occurring in the vicinity based on records of specimens archived in the Marine Vertebrate Collection (MVC) of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO). Collection of fishes from La Jolla in the MVC started in 1905, but greatly accelerated in 1944 when Carl L. Hubbs moved to SIO. By 1964, 90% of the 265 species recorded from the area had been collected and archived in the MVC. The fishes of La Jolla are dominated by species whose center of distribution is north of Point Conception (111 species), or between there and Punta Eugenia (96), with fewer species with southern distributions (57), and one exotic species. Reflecting the diversity of habitats in the area, soft-substrate species number 135, pelagic species 63, canyon-dwelling species 123 (including 35 rockfish species of the genus Sebastes), and hard-bottom species 140. We quantified the abundance of the latter group between 2002 and 2005 by counting visible fishes in transects along the rocky coastline of La Jolla, both within and adjacent to one of the region's MPAs. In 500 transects, we counted over 90,000 fishes representing 51 species. The fish communities inside and outside of the MPA were similar and, typical of southern California kelp forests, numerically dominated by Blacksmith, Chromis punctipinnis (Pomacentridae), and Señorita, Oxyjulis californica (Labridae). Natural history collections such as the MVC are important resources for conservation biology for determining the faunal composition of MPAs and surrounding habitats, and documenting both the disappearance and invasion of species.
The salmon louse (Lepeoptheirus salmonis) is a challenge in the farming of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). To treat an infestation, different insecticides are used like the orally administered chitin synthetase inhibitor teflubenzuron. The concentrations and distribution of teflubenzuron were measured in water, organic particles, marine sediment and biota caught in the vicinity of a fish farm following a standard medication. Low concentrations were found in water samples whereas the organic waste from the farm, collected by sediment traps had concentrations higher than the medicated feed. Most of the organic waste was distributed to the bottom close to the farm but organic particles containing teflubenzuron were collected 1100 m from the farm. The sediment under the farm consisted of 5 to 10% organic material and therefore the concentration of teflubenzuron was much lower than in the organic waste. Teflubenzuron was persistent in the sediment with a stipulated halflife of 170 days. Sediment consuming polychaetes had high but decreasing concentrations of teflubenzuron throughout the experimental period, reflecting the decrease of teflubenzuron in the sediment. During medication most wild fauna contained teflubenzuron residues and where polychaetes and saith had highest concentrations. Eight months later only polychaetes and some crustaceans contained drug residues. What dosages that induce mortality in various crustaceans following short or long-term exposure is not known but the results indicate that the concentrations in defined individuals of king crab, shrimp, squat lobster and Norway lobster were high enough shortly after medication to induce mortality if moulting was imminent. Considering food safety, saith and the brown meat of crustaceans contained at first sampling concentrations of teflubenzuron higher than the MRL-value set for Atlantic salmon. The concentrations were, however, moderate and the amount of saith fillet or brown meat of crustaceans to be consumed in order to exceed ADI is relatively large.
The High Seas are increasingly the subject of exploitation. Although Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are seen as a useful tool in the sustainable management of the oceans, progress in the implementation of MPA networks in areas beyond national jurisdiction has been limited. Specifically, the criteria of “representativeness” has received little consideration. This study uses the systematic conservation planning software Marxan coupled with a biologically meaningful biophysical habitat map to investigate representative MPA network scenarios and to assess the efficiency and representativeness of the existing High Seas MPA network in the Northeast Atlantic. Habitat maps were created based on the layers of water mass structure and seabed topography resulting in 30 different habitats, in six distinct regions. Conservation targets were set at 10 and 30% representation of each habitat within the final network. Two portfolios were created. The first portfolio (P1) ignored the presence of the existing MPA network within the study area allowing a non-biased selection of planning units (PUs) or sites to be chosen. The second (P2) enforced the selection of areas within the existing MPA network. Efficiency was measured as the difference in the percentage area contained within the “best scenario” MPAs from the un-bias run (P1) compared with (P2). Representativety of the existing network was assessed through the investigation of the properties of PUs included within MPAs in the “best scenario” Marxan output of P2. The results suggest that the current MPA network is neither efficient nor representative. There were clear differences in the spatial distribution of PUs selected in P1 compared with P2. The area required to be protected to achieve that the representation of 10 and 30% of each habitat was 8–10 and 1–4% higher, respectively, in P2 compared with P1. Abyssal areas in all regions are underrepresented within the current MPA network.
“Societal teleconnections” – analogous to physical teleconnections such as El Niño – are human-created linkages that link activities, trends, and disruptions across large distances, such that locations spatially separated from the locus of an event can experience a variety of impacts from it nevertheless. In the climate change context, such societal teleconnections add a layer of risk that is currently neither fully appreciated in most impacts or vulnerability assessments nor in on-the-ground adaptation planning. Conceptually, societal teleconnections arise from the interactions among actors, and the institutions that guide their actions, affecting the movement of various substances through different structures and processes. Empirically, they arise out of societal interactions, including globalization, to create, amplify, and sometimes attenuate climate change vulnerabilities and impacts in regions far from those where a climatic extreme or change occurs. This paper introduces a simple but systematic way to conceptualize societal teleconnections and then highlights and explores eight unique but interrelated types of societal teleconnections with selected examples: (1) trade and economic exchange, (2) insurance and reinsurance, (3) energy systems, (4) food systems; (5) human health, (6) population migration, (7) communication, and (8) strategic alliances and military interactions. The paper encourages further research to better understand the causal chains behind socially teleconnected impacts, and to identify ways to routinely integrate their consideration in impacts/vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning to limit the risk of costly impacts.
The Task Force to Study the Impact of Ocean Acidification on State Waters was formed by the Maryland General Assembly during its 2014 session through House Bill 118 (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2014RS/bills/hb/hb0118e.pdf). The bill states, “The Task Force shall: analyze the best available science regarding ocean acidification and the potential effects of acidification on the ecology of State waters and on State fisheries; and make recommendations regarding potential strategies to mitigate the effects of acidification on State waters and on State fisheries.”
Beginning July 2014, the Task Force comprised of representatives from the Maryland Senate, the Maryland House of Delegates, the National Aquarium, the Aquaculture Industry, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, the Maryland Departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Environment (MDE), the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and several outside experts and interested stakeholders met on a monthly basis to evaluate the basic science and problems of acidification in Maryland waters. Much is known about the ocean becoming more acidic from increased introduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, and the importance of upwelling events in the coastal ocean off of Washington State that have impacted the success of shellfish aquaculture facilities. Much less is known about the more complex acidification processes in shallow estuarine environments like Maryland’s Chesapeake and Coastal Bays, which are highly sensitive to terrestrial inputs, and the potential impacts that may be posed to the aquaculture industry and important fisheries such as oysters, crabs, striped bass, and other aquatic resources.
The information gaps to understanding the impacts of acidification in Maryland’s waters are large. Key findings from Maryland’s Task Force focus on seven areas that should be addressed in order to enhance our acidification understanding, its impacts to Maryland aquatic industries, and to leverage resources to capitalize on federal and other state acidification research and monitoring programs.
- This science advisory report is intended to provide general advice on how shipping activities may potentially impact the marine and freshwater environment. The Pathways of Effects (PoE) models included in this report are general and simply illustrate linkages that may not be universally applicable. The potential impacts of shipping can be widespread or localised, and may be chronic or acute.
- The PoE components included in this report (i.e., movement underway, discharge, oil spills, anchoring, and grounding) are independent of time and space constraints, and do not address the frequency, likelihood of occurrence, nor magnitude of potential impact(s) on an ecosystem. In no way should this advice or the PoE components be interpreted as risk or threat assessments.
- A suite of stressors resulting from movement underway (i.e. water mixing, substrate disturbance, noise emissions, icebreaking, strikes, wake, and light emission) may lead to changes in habitat, community structure, and the health (fitness) and survival (mortality) of organisms.
- Operational and incidental or accidental discharges associated with shipping can result in the discharge of aquatic invasive species, debris, oils and other aquatic or atmospheric contaminants, and nutrients (e.g., via grey water, sewage). Such discharges can result in changes to habitat, community structure, the fitness, mortality, and/or function of aquatic organisms.
- Oil spills are one of the most damaging events in the aquatic environment, affecting multiple species and habitats. Spill recovery measures are often largely ineffective and long-term chronic ecosystem effects often result.
- Anchoring may create vertical obstructions in the water column and/or may result in substantial changes to the substrate composition and structure resulting from crushing and/or sediment re-suspension. Changes to the substrate as a result of anchoring may alter benthic habitats and may result in sub-lethal impacts or an increase in mortality of benthic organisms.
- Vessel grounding can affect the substrate, habitat, and benthic organisms. Groundings are more likely near shore when approaching ports but could also occur offshore (e.g., where shallow seamounts or ridges are located).
- The environmental effects of shipping are multifaceted, with potential consequences on all structures and components of the ecosystem. As such, PoE models can be strongly inter-related leading to linkages at various levels. However, given many of the linkages have limited documentation of varying quality and quantity, predicting the PoEs can be challenging. The PoE components included in this report were developed based on the current state of knowledge with many potential linkages remaining to be thoroughly quantified.
- Bottom-up participatory processes to create and manage no-take marine protected areas have been proposed as a way to scale-up marine conservation and deal with the lack of support and compliance of top-down conservation approaches. However, bottom-up conservation does not always lead to positive outcomes, thus it is increasingly important to understand the conditions that determine the establishment and implementation of these initiatives.
- Establishment and implementation processes were compared empirically for two contrasting bottom-up no-take marine protected areas that have been developing under the same political setting, however, one has been successful and the other has stalled.
- Using mixed methods, stakeholders' (a) motivations to participate in the no-take marine protected area initiatives, (b) communication, support and information flow networks, (c) perceived participation, and (d) satisfaction with the establishment process of the bottom-up no-take marine protected areas, were assessed.
- Non-significant differences were found between the two initiatives in terms of stakeholders' motivations to create a no-take marine protected area.
- Significant differences were found in stakeholders' communication, support and information flow networks, in addition to differences in participation, and satisfaction with the establishment and implementation process.
- Results highlight that for the implementation and consolidation of bottom-up no-take marine protected areas initiatives, common interests do not necessarily lead to common action, partnerships will not emerge automatically in response to potential benefits.
- Understanding disparities in participation, information sharing and communication are key aspects which must be considered for creating and supporting successful marine protected areas based on bottom-up participatory processes.
Societal and scientific challenges foster the implementation of the ecosystem approach to marine ecosystem analysis and management, which is a comprehensive means of integrating the direct and indirect effects of multiple stressors on the different components of ecosystems, from physical to chemical and biological and from viruses to fishes and marine mammals. Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE) is a widely used software package, which offers great capability for a dynamic description of the multiple interactions occurring within a food web, and potentially, a crucial component of an integrated platform supporting the ecosystem approach. However, being written for the Microsoft .NET framework, seamless integration of this code with Fortran-based physical oceanographic and/or biogeochemical models is technically not straightforward. In this work we release a re-coding of EwE in Fortran (EwE-F). We believe that the availability of a Fortran version of EwE is an important step towards setting-up integrated end-to-end (E2E) modelling schemes utilising this widely adopted software because it (i) increases portability of the EwE models, (ii) provides greater flexibility towards integrating EwE with Fortran-based modelling schemes. Furthermore, EwE-F might help modellers using Fortran programming language to get close to the EwE approach. In the present work, first the fundamentals of EwE-F are introduced, followed by validation of EwE-F against standard EwE utilising sample models. Afterwards, an E2E ecological representation of the Trieste Gulf (Northern Adriatic Sea) ecosystem is presented as an example of online two-way coupling between an EwE-F food web model and a biogeochemical model. Finally, the possibilities that having EwE-F opens up for are discussed.
Oceans, particularly coastal areas, are getting busier and within this increasingly human-dominated seascape, marine biodiversity continues to decline. Attempts to maintain and restore marine biodiversity are becoming more spatial, principally through the designation of marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs compete for space with other uses, and the emergence of new industries, such as marine renewable energy generation, will increase competition for space. Decision makers require guidance on how to zone the ocean to conserve biodiversity, mitigate conflict and accommodate multiple uses. Here we used empirical data and freely available planning software to identified priority areas for multiple ocean zones, which incorporate goals for biodiversity conservation, two types of renewable energy, and three types of fishing. We developed an approached to evaluate trade-offs between industries and we investigated the impacts of co-locating some fishing activities within renewable energy sites. We observed non-linear trade-offs between industries. We also found that different subsectors within those industries experienced very different trade-off curves. Incorporating co-location resulted in significant reductions in cost to the fishing industry, including fisheries that were not co-located. Co-location also altered the optimal location of renewable energy zones with planning solutions. Our findings have broad implications for ocean zoning and marine spatial planning. In particular, they highlight the need to include industry subsectors when assessing trade-offs and they stress the importance of considering co-location opportunities from the outset. Our research reinforces the need for multi-industry ocean-zoning and demonstrates how it can be undertaken within the framework of strategic conservation planning.
Numerous assessments have quantified, mapped, and valued the services provided by ecosystems that are important for human wellbeing. However, much of the literature does not clarify how the information gathered in such assessments could be used to inform decisions that will impact ecosystem services. We propose that the process of making management decisions for ecosystem services comprises five core steps: identification of the problem and its social–ecological context; specification of objectives and associated performance measures; defining alternative management actions and evaluating the consequences of these actions; assessment of trade-offs and prioritization of alternative management actions; and making management decisions. We synthesize the degree to which the peer-reviewed ecosystem services literature has captured these steps. For the ecosystem service paradigm to gain traction in science and policy arenas, future ecosystem service assessments should have clearly articulated objectives, seek to evaluate the consequences of alternative management actions, and facilitate closer engagement between scientists and stakeholders.
Currently, risk assessments related to rising sea levels and the adoption of defensive or adaptive measures to counter these sea level increases are underway for densely populated deltas where economic losses might be important, especially in the developed world. However, many underpopulated deltas harbouring high biological and cultural diversity are also at risk but will most likely continue to be ignored as conservation targets. In this study, we explore the potential effects of erosion, inundation and salinisation on one of the world's comparatively underpopulated megadeltas, the Orinoco Delta. With a 1 m sea level rise expected to occur by 2100, several models predict a moderate erosion of the delta's shorelines, migration or loss of mangroves, general inundation of the delta with an accompanying submersion of wetlands, and an increase in the distance to which sea water intrudes into streams, resulting in harm to the freshwater biota and resources. The Warao people are the indigenous inhabitants of the Orinoco Delta and currently are subject to various socioeconomic stressors. Changes due to sea level rise will occur extremely rapidly and cause abrupt shifts in the Warao's traditional environments and resources, resulting in migrations and abandonment of their ancestral territories. However, evidence indicates that deltaic aggradation/accretion processes at the Orinoco delta due to allochthonous sediment input and vegetation growth could be elevating the surface of the land, keeping pace with the local sea level rise. Other underpopulated and large deltas of the world also may risk immeasurable biodiversity and cultural losses and should not be forgotten as important conservation targets.
Previous research indicated that high predictive performance in species distribution modelling can be obtained by combining both biotic and abiotic habitat variables. However, models developed for fish often only address physical habitat characteristics, thus omitting potentially important biotic factors. Therefore, we assessed the impact of biotic variables on fish habitat preferences in four selected stretches of the upper Cabriel River (E Spain). The occurrence of Squalius pyrenaicus and Luciobarbus guiraonis was related to environmental variables describing biotic interactions (inferred by relationships among fish abundances) and channel hydro-morphological characteristics. Random Forests (RF) models were trained and then validated using independent datasets. To build RF models, the conditional variable importance was used together with the model improvement ratio technique. The procedure showed effectiveness in identifying a parsimonious set of not correlated variables, which minimize noise and improve model performance in both training and validation phases. Water depth, channel width, fine substrate and water-surface gradient were selected as most important habitat variables for both fish. Results showed clear habitat overlapping between fish species and suggest that competition is not a strong factor in the study area.
Cultural ecosystem services (CES) are an important benefit that habitats provide, particularly in the fragments of natural ecosystems that remain in urban areas. To manage CES we need to understand what people use habitats for, and where different activities take place. It is challenging to assess CES provision, as surveys and interviews are time consuming and can be expensive. Social media data, particularly geo-tagged photographs, are spatially explicit and contain visual information that can be used to infer cultural use. Indicators of CES derived from social media make use of existing data so may contribute useful information for rapid, cost-effective assessments of CES. In this study we develop an indicator of CES usage that is derived from photographs from an image-sharing website, at two different scales. First, we compare four small (<150 ha) urban mangrove sites in Singapore, using photograph content to classify sites according to predominant cultural use. Second, the spatial distribution of different CES was modelled within one site using MaxEnt. A resampling simulation was conducted to identify the sensitivity of the photograph classification to the number of photographs classified. Photographs of social recreation, organisms and landscapes occurred most commonly. The proportional occurrence of photograph types differed between sites depending on their characteristics. Within one site, the probability of occurrence of social recreation photographs was highest around built focal points, while photographs of organisms were more likely in the mangrove and terrestrial habitats. Classifying more than 50–70 photographs (which would take approximately 30 minutes) gave only small increases in categorisation accuracy. This tool for CES assessment rapidly provided information that would be useful for managing Singapore's mangroves. The approach could be widely applied to assess CES provision across a range of habitats and settings, helping CES to become more commonly considered in ecosystem service evaluations.