We review the status of marine shellfish ecosystems formed primarily by bivalves in Australia, including: identifying ecosystem-forming species, assessing their historical and current extent, causes for decline and past and present management. Fourteen species of bivalves were identified as developing complex, three-dimensional reef or bed ecosystems in intertidal and subtidal areas across tropical, subtropical and temperate Australia. A dramatic decline in the extent and condition of Australia’s two most common shellfish ecosystems, developed by Saccostrea glomerata and Ostrea angasi oysters, occurred during the mid-1800s to early 1900s in concurrence with extensive harvesting for food and lime production, ecosystem modification, disease outbreaks and a decline in water quality. Out of 118 historical locations containing O. angasi-developed ecosystems, only one location still contains the ecosystem whilst only six locations are known to still contain S. glomerata-developed ecosystems out of 60 historical locations. Ecosystems developed by the introduced oyster Crasostrea gigas are likely to be increasing in extent, whilst data on the remaining 11 ecosystem-forming species are limited, preventing a detailed assessment of their current ecosystem-forming status. Our analysis identifies that current knowledge on extent, physical characteristics, biodiversity and ecosystem services of Australian shellfish ecosystems is extremely limited. Despite the limited information on shellfish ecosystems, a number of restoration projects have recently been initiated across Australia and we propose a number of existing government policies and conservation mechanisms, if enacted, would readily serve to support the future conservation and recovery of Australia’s shellfish ecosystems.
Sharks are a diverse group of mobile predators that forage across varied spatial scales and have the potential to influence food web dynamics. The ecological consequences of recent declines in shark biomass may extend across broader geographic ranges if shark taxa display common behavioural traits. By tracking the original site of photosynthetic fixation of carbon atoms that were ultimately assimilated into muscle tissues of 5,394 sharks from 114 species, we identify globally consistent biogeographic traits in trophic interactions between sharks found in different habitats. We show that populations of shelf-dwelling sharks derive a substantial proportion of their carbon from regional pelagic sources, but contain individuals that forage within additional isotopically diverse local food webs, such as those supported by terrestrial plant sources, benthic production and macrophytes. In contrast, oceanic sharks seem to use carbon derived from between 30° and 50° of latitude. Global-scale compilations of stable isotope data combined with biogeochemical modelling generate hypotheses regarding animal behaviours that can be tested with other methodological approaches.
Nature conservation and fisheries management often focus on particular seabed features that are considered vulnerable or important to commercial species. As a result, individual seabed types are protected in isolation, without any understanding of what effect the mixture of seabed types within the landscape has on ecosystem functions. Here we undertook predictive seabed modelling within a coastal marine protected area using observations from underwater stereo-video camera deployments and environmental information (depth, wave fetch, maximum tidal speeds, distance from coast and underlying geology). The effect of the predicted substratum type, extent and heterogeneity or the diversity of substrata, within a radius of 1500 m around each camera deployment of juvenile gadoid relative abundance was analysed. The predicted substratum model performed well with wave fetch and depth being the most influential predictor variables. Gadus morhua (Atlantic cod) were associated with relatively more rugose substrata (Algal-gravel-pebble and seagrass) and heterogeneous landscapes, than Melanogrammus aeglefinus (haddock) or Merlangius merlangus (whiting) (sand and mud). An increase in M. merlangus relative abundance was observed with increasing substratum extent. These results reveal that landscape effects should be considered when protecting the seabed for fish and not just individual seabed types. The landscape approach used in this study therefore has important implications for marine protected area, fisheries management and monitoring advice concerning demersal fish populations.
Sharp declines in numerous shark populations around the world have generated considerable interest in better understanding and characterising their biology, ecology and critical habitats. The scalloped hammerhead shark (SHS, Sphyrna lewini) is subject to a multitude of natural and anthropogenic threats that are often exacerbated within the coastal embayments and estuaries used during SHS early life stages. In this study, we describe the temporal and spatial distribution, age class composition, and reproductive biology of SHS in the Rewa Delta (RD), Fiji. A total of 1054 SHS (including 796 tagged individuals; 101 of which were recaptured) were captured from September 2014 to March 2016 in the RD. A majority of the captures in this area were neonates and young-of-the-year (YOY) (99.8%). Significant seasonality in patterns of occurrence of both neonates and YOY individuals suggests a defined parturition period during the austral summer. Between the seven sampling sites in the RD we also found significant differences in SHS neonate catch per unit of effort, and average total length of individuals. According to the data, the RD is likely to represent an important nursery area for SHS up to one year of age.
A new method based on photographic sampling coupled with in situ observations was applied to 53 stations along the French Mediterranean coast, to assess the integrity of coralligenous reefs affected by different levels of anthropogenic pressure. The conservation state of the assemblages characterizing these habitats was then assessed by an index – the INDEX-COR – that integrates three metrics: (i) the sensitivity of the taxa to organic matter and sediment deposition, (ii) the observable taxonomic richness, and (iii) the structural complexity of the assemblages. The sensitivity of INDEX-COR was tested and showed good correlation with the Level of Pressure calculated for each station according to expert judgment and field observations.
The State of the Arctic Marine Biodiversity Report (SAMBR) is a synthesis of the state of knowledge about biodiversity in Arctic marine ecosystems, detectable changes, and important gaps in our ability to assess state and trends in biodiversity across six focal ecosystem components (FECs): marine mammals, seabirds, marine fishes, benthos, plankton, and sea ice biota.
The purpose of this article is to present the Mexican experience related to the US-Mexico joint Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem-Based Assessment and Management Project, particularly the community involvement and mangrove wetland restoration, and the challenges for its replication and up-scaling. Results focus on community engagement, environmental education and social participation, strategies for hydrological restoration of mangrove, and difficulties and recommendations for the implementation of the Strategic Action Program. The main conclusions are that the community-based hydrologic restoration approach, is a good way to ensure long-term restoration of wetlands. Changing from mangrove plantations to the hydrological restoration of wetlands, and construction of human capacities resulted in a more efficient strategy for ecosystem restoration and had influenced the forest environmental policy. The involvement of government and education institutions as execution agencies will contribute to a more efficient appropriation of the project and LME approach. The development of economic alternatives and the ecological monitoring are some of the identified challenges within the implementation phase of the Strategic Action Program.
Historical tipping of vast quantities of colliery spoil at various foreshore locations in NE England has changed the morphology and sedimentology of large areas of the shoreline and nearshore sea bed, and has impacted adversely upon the ecology and amenity use of the area. Tipping started early in the 20th Century, well before statutory controls to regulate impacts of activities on the marine environment came into force in the UK in 1974, and ended with the closure of the last colliery in 2005. The spoil tipping acted as a form of artificial sediment recharge to the foreshore, akin to conventional beach recharge schemes that use sand or shingle to replenish foreshores for coastal defence and amenity purposes, but creating a legacy of contaminated beaches and prograding (advancing) shores. Since closure of the collieries, however, the foreshores have received no artificial supply of material, and the shoreline in all former tipping areas has since been in retreat due to natural erosion. This has caused problems where assets are present at the rear of the spoil beaches, requiring coastal defence structures for their protection. As well as collating and analysing historical maps, records, literature and data relating to colliery spoil tipping, the coastal changes that have occurred since its cessation have been assessed by reference to more recent maps, literature, aerial photographs and new and up-to-date beach profile transect survey data from contemporary coastal monitoring programmes. It is envisaged that where sea cliffs are protected by colliery spoil beaches, and hence currently are dormant, they could become re-activated by erosion and start to retreat at short term rates of several metres per year and longer-term rates of up to 0.3 m/year in the foreseeable future.
Habitat fragmentation impacts ecosystem functioning in many ways, including reducing the availability of suitable habitat for animals and altering resource dynamics. Fragmentation in seagrass ecosystems caused by propeller scarring is a major source of habitat loss, but little is known about how scars impact ecosystem functioning. Propeller scars were simulated in seagrass beds of Abaco, Bahamas, to explore potential impacts. To determine if plant-herbivore interactions were altered by fragmentation, amphipod grazers were excluded from half the experimental plots, and epiphyte biomass and community composition were compared between grazer control and exclusion plots. We found a shift from light limitation to phosphorus limitation at seagrass patch edges. Fragmentation did not impact top-down control on epiphyte biomass or community composition, despite reduced amphipod density in fragmented habitats. Seagrass and amphipod responses to propeller scarring suggest that severely scarred seagrass beds could be subject to changes in internal nutrient stores and amphipod distribution.
Increases in the intensity of disturbances in coastal lagoons can lead to shifts in vegetation from aquatic angiosperms to macroalgal or phytoplankton communities. Such abrupt and discontinuous responses are facilitated by instability in the equilibrium controlling the trajectory of the community response. We hypothesized that the shift in macrophyte populations is reversible, and that this reversibility is dependent on changes in the pressures exerted on the watershed and lagoon functioning. Biguglia lagoon (Mediterranean Sea, Corsica) is an interesting case study for the evaluation of long-term coastal lagoon ecosystem functioning and the trajectory of submerged macrophyte responses to disturbances, to facilitate the appropriate restoration of ecosystems. We used historical data for a two hundred-year period to assess changes in human activities on the watershed of the Biguglia lagoon. Macrophyte mapping (from 1970) and monitoring data for dynamics (from 1999) were used to investigate the trajectory of the community response. The changes observed in this watershed included a large number of hydrological developments affecting salinity and resulting in changes in macrophyte distribution. Nutrient inputs over the last 40 years have led to a shift in the aquatic vegetation from predominantly aquatic angiosperm community to macroalgae and phytoplankton in 2007 (dystrophic crisis). Changes in hydrological management and improvements in sewage treatment after 2007 led to a significant increase of aquatic angiosperms over a relatively short period of time (4–5 years), particularly for Ruppia cirrhosa and Stuckenia pectinata. There has been a significant resurgence of Najas marina, due to changes in salinity. The observed community shift suggests that Biguglia lagoon is resilient and that the transition may be reversible. The restored communities closely resemble those present before disturbance. These findings demonstrate the need to understand watershed exploitation and ecosystem variability in lagoon restoration.