Optimizing coastal and marine spatial planning through the use of high-resolution benthic sensitivity models
Effective management of coastal and marine resources requires knowledge of how community sensitivity varies spatially. With this in mind, we developed a benthic sensitivity index (SI), based on the distribution and abundance of five ecological groups that can be used to assess community tolerance to organic enrichment and other disturbances. The index, projected as a high-resolution map, ranks communities from those dominated by sensitive and ecologically important species (i.e. low SI values) to those composed mainly of tolerant and/or opportunistic species (i.e., high SI values). Applying our model to a multiple-use case study in southeast Brazil, we were able to show considerable variability in the sensitivity of communities across the study area that was relatively stable over time. This allowed us to evaluate the possible direct (i.e., spatially overlapping) and indirect effects (i.e., cumulative changes to the physical environment) of a range of activities on sensitive and ecologically diverse benthic communities. Our approach and the resulting high-resolution maps hold promise for a range of spatial planning applications, including the development of coastal infrastructure, assessments of the representativeness of marine protected areas and other activities such as the selection of appropriate locations for dredge spoil dumping. Overall, we present a novel and transparent way of extrapolating limited survey data to provide spatial and temporal information on the sensitivity of benthic communities in multiple-use coastal and marine areas.