The term vulnerable marine ecosystem (VME) was introduced to facilitate the spatial management of deep-seas, identifying those habitats vulnerable to anthropogenic disturbance, such as trawling. Consistent interpretation of the VME definition has been hampered by an underlying paucity of knowledge about the nature and distribution of deep-sea habitats. Photographic and video platforms yield data rich, quantifiable imagery to address these knowledge gaps. A low-cost towed benthic video sled has been used to investigate deep-sea habitats and trawling impacts in west Greenland. A review of imagery from multiple cruises highlighted an area where benthic megafauna contributes to notable structural complexity on the continental slope of the Toqqusaq Bank. Quantitative analysis of imagery from this area provides the first description of a soft coral garden habitat and other communities. The coral garden and observed densities are considered in relation to the VME guidelines (FAO, 2009) and wider literature. The study proposes a 486 km2 area spanning ∼60 km of continental slope as a VME. This has direct implications for the management of economically important deep-sea trawl fisheries, which are immediately adjacent. This furthers our knowledge and understanding of VMEs in North Atlantic, in a previously understudied region and demonstrates the utility of a low-cost video sled for identifying and describing VMEs.
The relationships between infaunal diversity and ecosystem function of biogenic structures in the Eastern Canadian Arctic remain poorly documented. Our study investigated the influence of sponge gardens at the Frobisher Bay site (137 m) and bamboo corals at the Baffin Bay site (1007 m) on the infaunal community structure and benthic ecosystem functioning. The occurrence of both types of biogenic structure type enhanced particular taxa and/or feeding guilds. A large density of suspension filter feeders was observed in bamboo coral sediment, whereas bare sediment exhibited a large proportion of nematodes and deposit-detritus feeders. Sponge gardens’ sediment showed a high proportion of isopods, Paraonidae polychaetes and up/down conveyors whereas bare sediment exhibited a large density of filter feeders. Through incubation cores, we measured ex situ benthic nutrient and oxygen fluxes at the sediment-water interface in each habitat and site. Biogeochemical fluxes varied significantly between habitats in the Baffin Bay site with a significant impact of bamboo coral habitat on nutrient fluxes (nitrate, ammonium, and silicate). Surprisingly, the sediment hosting bamboo corals acted as a source of nitrate and ammonium reaching values similar or higher to the Frobisher site despite the difference in water depth, and thus food supply between the two sites. These significant releases could derive from (i) a high organic matter deposition in bamboo coral habitat, allowed by their erected structure, (ii) a high efficiency of bioturbators (surficial modifiers and burrowers) mixing the surface layer of the sediment, and (iii) the difference in sediment type. Our study highlighted that, compared to its adjacent habitat, the presence of bamboo corals appeared to enhance the infaunal density and nutrient release of its sediment. In contrast, the impact of sponge gardens was not as clear as for bamboo coral habitat, likely due to the relatively significant presence of megabiota in the sponge garden adjacent habitat. Thus, our results based on a relatively small sample size, indicate that the bamboo coral habitat seems to increase the efficiency of deep-benthic ecosystem functioning, while that of sponge garden on the shallow ecosystem functioning remains uncertain.
The Mediterranean Sea is subject to multiple human pressures increasingly threatening its unique biodiversity. Spatially explicit information on the ecological status of marine ecosystems is therefore key to an effective maritime spatial planning and management, and to help the achievement of environmental targets. Here, we summarized scientific data on the ecological status of a selection of marine ecosystems based on a set of ecological indicators in more than 700 sites of the Mediterranean Sea. For Posidonia oceanica seagrass beds, rocky intertidal fringe, and coastal soft bottoms, more than 70% of investigated sites exhibited good to high ecological conditions. In contrast, about two-thirds of sites for subtidal rocky reefs were classified to be in moderate to bad conditions, stressing the need for prioritizing conservation initiatives on these productive and diverse environments. Very little quantitative information was available for the southern Mediterranean Sea, thus monitoring programs and assessments in this area are essential for a representative assessment of the health of marine coastal ecosystems in the whole basin. This overview represents a first step to implement a baseline that, through georeferenced data on ecological status, could help identifying information gaps, directing future research priorities, and supporting improvements to spatial models of expected cumulative impacts on marine ecosystems.
The expansion of the aquaculture industry in the last several decades has raised concerns about potential ecological impacts of the industry. Bivalve culture, particularly mussel farming, relies on naturally occurring plankton and numerous studies have demonstrated top-down control on phytoplankton, increased nutrients through excretion of metabolic wastes and remineralization of faeces and pseudofaeces, and bottom-up effects on predators and scavengers through mussel fall-off. However, results are inconsistent between studies, and hydrodynamic conditions and nutrient availability are thought to play an important role in the magnitude and the direction of the ecological effects of mussel culture on the surrounding ecosystem. We used qualitative network models (QNMs), to outline a general model that integrates these environmental conditions and (1) evaluated the ability of different model configurations to reproduce known responses to perturbations, (2) analyzed the behaviour of key components to contrasting hydrodynamic and nutrient condition scenarios, and (3) identified the most influential features of the derived scenarios. The model that included uncertain linkages to characterize unknown relationships performed best based on predetermined validation criteria; the addition of semi-quantitative information on the relative strength of certain linkages improved accuracy and sign determinacy of outcomes. The presence of suspended mussel culture negatively affected primary producers, zooplankton and deposit-feeders, and had a positive effect on predators and scavengers, especially in low-energy environments. Hydrodynamic conditions were shown to have a major impact on the response of the community to mussel culture, while nutrient availability had a very minor impact.
Globally increasing sea surface temperatures threaten coral reefs, both directly and through interactions with local stressors. More resilient reefs have a higher likelihood of returning to a coral-dominated state following a disturbance, such as a mass bleaching event. To advance practical approaches to reef resilience assessments and aid resilience-based management of coral reefs, we conducted a resilience assessment for Puerto Rico’s coral reefs, modified from methods used in other U.S. jurisdictions. We calculated relative resilience scores for 103 sites from an existing commonwealth-wide survey using eight resilience indicators—such as coral diversity, macroalgae percent cover, and herbivorous fish biomass—and assessed which indicators most drove resilience. We found that sites of very different relative resilience were generally highly spatially intermixed, underscoring the importance and necessity of decision making and management at fine scales. In combination with information on levels of two localized stressors (fishing pressure and pollution exposure), we used the resilience indicators to assess which of seven potential management actions could be used at each site to maintain or improve resilience. Fishery management was the management action that applied to the most sites. Furthermore, we combined sites’ resilience scores with projected ocean warming to assign sites to vulnerability categories. Island-wide or community-level managers can use the actions and vulnerability information as a starting point for resilience-based management of their reefs. This assessment differs from many previous ones because we tested how much information could be yielded by a “desktop” assessment using freely-available, existing data rather than from a customized, resilience-focused field survey. The available data still permitted analyses comparable to previous assessments, demonstrating that desktop resilience assessments can substitute for assessments with field components under some circumstances.
Incorporating coastal ecosystems in climate adaptation planning is needed to maintain the well-being of both natural and human systems. Our vulnerability study uses a multidisciplinary approach to evaluate climate change vulnerability of an urbanized coastal community that could serve as a model approach for communities worldwide, particularly in similar Mediterranean climates. We synthesize projected changes in climate, coastal erosion and flooding, watershed runoff and impacts to two important coastal ecosystems, sandy beaches and coastal salt marshes. Using downscaled climate models along with other regional models, we find that temperature, extreme heat events, and sea level are expected to increase in the future, along with more intense rainfall events, despite a negligible change in annual rainfall. Consequently, more droughts are expected but the magnitude of larger flood events will increase. Associated with the continuing rise of mean sea level, extreme coastal water levels will occur with increasingly greater magnitudes and frequency. Severe flooding will occur for both natural (wetlands, beaches) and built environments (airport, harbor, freeway, and residential areas). Adaptation actions can reduce the impact of rising sea level, which will cause losses of sandy beach zones and salt marsh habitats that support the highest biodiversity in these ecosystems, including regionally rare and endangered species, with substantial impacts occurring by 2050. Providing for inland transgression of coastal habitats, effective sediment management, reduced beach grooming and removal of shoreline armoring are adaptations that would help maintain coastal ecosystems and the beneficial services they provide.
This study examines the occurrence of humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) song in the northeast Pacific from three years of continuous recordings off central California (36.713°N, 122.186°W). Song is prevalent in this feeding and migratory habitat, spanning nine months of the year (September–May), peaking in winter (November–January), and reaching a maximum of 86% temporal coverage (during November 2017). From the rise of song in fall through the end of peak occurrence in winter, song length increases significantly from month to month. The seasonal peak in song coincides with the seasonal trough in day length and sighting-based evidence of whales leaving Monterey Bay, consistent with seasonal migration. During the seasonal song peak, diel variation shows maximum occurrence at night (69% of the time), decreasing during dawn and dusk (52%), and further decreasing with increasing solar elevation during the day, reaching a minimum near solar noon (30%). Song occurrence increased 44% and 55% between successive years. Sighting data within the acoustic detection range of the hydrophone indicate that variation in local population density was an unlikely cause of this large interannual variation. Hydrographic data and modeling of acoustic transmission indicate that changes in neither habitat occupancy nor acoustic transmission were probable causes. Conversely, the positive interannual trend in song paralleled major ecosystem variations, including similarly large positive trends in wind-driven upwelling, primary productivity, and krill abundance. Further, the lowest song occurrence during the first year coincided with anomalously warm ocean temperatures and an extremely toxic harmful algal bloom that affected whales and other marine mammals in the region. These major ecosystem variations may have influenced the health and behavior of humpback whales during the study period.
Phosphate mining activities on Christmas Island began in the late 1800's providing a unique, long-term case study in which to assess the impacts of mining on coral reef development. Watershed modelling was used to identify potential “hotspots” of mining runoff on to adjacent reefs. Pollution hotspots were also confirmed by analysis of reef sediment. Phosphate rich mining runoff flowed from local watersheds onto nearshore coral reefs with levels of up to 54,000 mg/kg of total phosphate recorded in reef sediment at the Dryers reef site adjacent to the main phosphate storage facility. Using this combination of watershed modelling and in-situ sediment contamination data we identified six coral reef sites along an environmental impact gradient. In-situ benthic transects were paired with a new rubble-encruster method enabling the analysis to combine large scale transect information alongside fine-scale data on epibenthic and encruster assemblages. Results demonstrate that phosphate rich sediment loading negatively impacted coral reef building communities, in particular, branching corals and calcareous encrusting organisms, critical to the future survival of coral reef ecosystems. These findings highlight the importance of curtailing runoff and pollution from catchment based mining activities and protecting reefs for the future.
Coastal habitats (e.g., seagrass beds, shallow mud, and sand flats) strongly influence survival, growth, and reproduction of marine fish and invertebrate species. Many of these species have declined over the past decades, coincident with widespread degradation of coastal habitats, such that an urgent need exists to model the quantitative value of coastal habitats to their population dynamics. For exploited species, demand for habitat considerations will increase as fisheries management contends with habitat issues in stock assessments and management in general moves toward a more ecosystem-based approach. The modeling of habitat function has, to date, been done on a case-by-case basis involving diverse approaches and types of population models, which has made it difficult to generalize about methods for incorporating habitat into population models. In this review, we offer guiding concepts for how habitat effects can be incorporated in population models commonly used to simulate the population dynamics of fish and invertebrate species. Many marine species share a similar life-history strategy as long-lived adults with indeterminate growth, high fecundity, a planktonic larval form, and benthic juveniles and adults using coastal habitats. This suite of life-history traits unites the marine species across the case studies, such that the population models can be adapted for other marine species. We categorize population models based on whether they are static or dynamic representations of population status, and for dynamic, further into unstructured, age/size class structured, and individual-based. We then use examples, with an emphasis on exploited species, to illustrate how habitat has been incorporated, implicitly (correlative) and explicitly (mechanistically), into each of these categories. We describe the methods used and provide details on their implementation and utility to facilitate adaptation of the approaches for other species and systems. We anticipate that our review can serve as a stimulus for more widespread use of population models to quantify the value of coastal habitats, so that their importance can be accurately realized and to facilitate cross-species and cross-system comparisons. Quantitative evaluation of habitat effects in population dynamics will increasingly be needed for traditional stock assessments, ecosystem-based management, conservation of at-risk habitats, and recovery of overexploited stocks that rely on critical coastal habitats during their life cycle.
The coastal and marine environment provides a wide range of ecosystem services, many of which may be impacted through coastal management. Incorporating these values into cost-benefit analysis to support decision making is hampered by the lack of existing appropriate measures. While studies can be undertaken by these agencies to collect the appropriate values, the number of different habitats that may need to be considered is greater than what could reasonably be included in traditional economic approaches. In this paper, we propose combining of a multi-criteria method, namely the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP), with choice experiments to develop estimates for a wide range of coastal and marine habitat values that can be used by local planners and coastal managers. We apply the approach to the coastal regions in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Coastal residents were initially asked to express their preferences for protecting different coastal and marine habitats using AHP, from which a relative index of utility was derived. A choice experiment was also implemented, involving a hypothetical new coastal reserve in their area protecting different combinations of habitats and funded through an increase in their local council rates. We found that nearly 90 per cent of NSW coastal residents were willing to pay to support coastal protection. Relative values derived from the AHP were used to extrapolate the choice experiment results to provide estimates of non-market values for a wide range of coastal and marine habitats.