Vegetated coastal wetlands, including seagrass, saltmarsh and mangroves, are threatened globally, yet the need to avert these losses is poorly recognized in international policy, such as in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. Identifying the impact of overlooking coastal wetlands in ecosystem assessment frameworks could help prioritize research efforts to fill these gaps. Here, we examine gaps in the recognition of coastal wetlands in globally applicable ecosystem assessments. We address both shortfalls in assessment frameworks when it comes to assessing wetlands, and gaps in data that limit widespread application of assessments. We examine five assessment frameworks that track fisheries, greenhouse gas emissions, ecosystem threats, and ecosystem services. We found that these assessments inform management decisions, but that the functions provided by coastal wetlands are incompletely represented. Most frameworks had sufficient complexity to measure wetland status, but limitations in data meant they were incompletely informed about wetland functions and services. Incomplete representation of coastal wetlands may lead to them being overlooked by research and management. Improving the coverage of coastal wetlands in ecosystem assessments requires improving global scale mapping of wetland trends, developing global-scale indicators of wetland function and synthesis to quantitatively link animal population dynamics to wetland trends. Filling these gaps will help ensure coastal wetland conservation is properly informed to manage them for the outstanding benefits they bring humanity.
With the widespread influence of human activities on marine ecosystems, evaluation of ecological status provides valuable information for conservation initiatives and sustainable development. To this end, many environmental indicators have been developed worldwide and there is a growing need to evaluate their performance by calculating ecological status in a wide range of ecosystems at multiple spatial and temporal scales. This study calculated and contrasted sixteen indicators of ecological status from three methodological categories: abundance measures, diversity parameters and characteristic species. This selection was applied to coastal benthic ecosystems at Sept-Îles (Québec, Canada), an important industrial harbor area in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and related to habitat parameters (organic matter, grain size fractions, and heavy metal concentrations). Nearly all indicators highlighted a generally good ecological status in the study area, where communities presented an unperturbed profile with high taxa and functional diversities and without the dominance of opportunistic taxa. Some correlations with habitat parameters were detected, especially with heavy metals, and bootstrap analyses indicated quite robust results. This study provides valuable information on the application of environmental indicators in Canadian coastal ecosystems, along with insights on their use for environmental assessments.
The ocean delivers many ecosystem services to human society in providing food, livelihoods, and recreation and is crucial for regulating the global climate. Coastal cities, which have become the backbone of national economies, are highly dependent on the ecosystem services supported by the ocean. As a global coastal megacity, Shanghai has benefited enormously from its relationship with the ocean but its burgeoning population and rampant economic development in recent decades have applied great pressures on the associated coastal ecosystems and have reduced the ocean's capacity to provide ecosystem services and, meanwhile, have led to the demand for greater investment in ocean ecosystem restoration. To support the goal of long-term sustainability and facilitate appropriate management decisions, it is essential to assess the current health status of the coastal ecosystems of Shanghai and evaluate potential future risks. Here we apply the Ocean Health Index (OHI) framework, with indicators and reference points adjusted based on the unique coastal environment in Shanghai. The results reveal that the city obtained an overall OHI of 59 (out of 100) for the period 2012 to 2016. Individual indicators for Clean Waters (22) and Fisheries (39) exhibit particularly low values, indicating that the coastal waters around Shanghai are heavily polluted and that marine fishing is unsustainable. The city’s highest OHI scores are in the sectors of Coastal Livelihoods and Economies (93), and Tourism and Recreation (93), indicating that Shanghai’s coastal ecosystems contribute significantly to people’s livelihoods and regional economies, while marine recreational areas and related leisure activities add considerably to the quality of life in the region. This study demonstrates the value of the OHI in assessing ocean health at the city scale and reveals its potential for application in other coastal localities. In so doing, the findings provide a valuable benchmark against which to measure progress towards the sustainable development of Shanghai's oceans.
A multitude of anthropogenic pressures deteriorate the Baltic Sea, resulting in the need to protect and restore its marine ecosystem. For an efficient conservation, comprehensive monitoring and assessment of all ecosystem elements is of fundamental importance. The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission HELCOM coordinates conservation measures regulated by several European directives. However, this holistic assessment is hindered by gaps within the current monitoring schemes. Here, twenty-two novel methods with the potential to fill some of these gaps and improve the monitoring of the Baltic marine environment are examined. We asked key stakeholders to point out methods likely to improve current Baltic Sea monitoring. We then described these methods in a comparable way and evaluated them based on their costs and applicability potential (i.e., possibility to make them operational). Twelve methods require low to very low costs, while five require moderate and two high costs. Seventeen methods were rated with a high to very high applicability, whereas four methods had moderate and one low applicability for Baltic Sea monitoring. Methods with both low costs and a high applicability include the Manta Trawl, Rocket Sediment Corer, Argo Float, Artificial Substrates, Citizen Observation, Earth Observation, the HydroFIA®pH system, DNA Metabarcoding and Stable Isotope Analysis.
Species composition plays a key role in ecosystem functioning. Theoretical, experimental and field studies show positive effects of biodiversity on ecosystem processes. However, this link can differ between taxonomic and functional diversity components and also across trophic levels. These relationships have been hardly studied in planktonic communities of coastal upwelling systems. Using a 28-year time series of phytoplankton and zooplankton assemblages, we examined the effects of phytoplankton diversity on resource use efficiency (RUE, ratio of biomass to limiting resource) at the two trophic levels in the Galician upwelling system (NW Iberian peninsula). By fitting generalized least square models, we show that phytoplankton diversity was the best predictor for RUE across planktonic trophic levels. This link varied depending on the biodiversity component considered: while the effect of phytoplankton richness on RUE was positive for phytoplankton RUE and negative for zooplankton RUE, phytoplankton evenness effect was negative for phytoplankton RUE and positive for zooplankton RUE. Overall, taxonomic diversity had higher explanatory power than functional diversity, and variability in phytoplankton and zooplankton RUE decreased with increasing phytoplankton taxonomic diversity. Phytoplankton used resources more efficiently in warmer waters and at greater upwelling intensity, although these effects were not as strong as those for biodiversity. These results suggest that phytoplankton species numbers in highly dynamic upwelling systems are important for maintaining the planktonic biomass production leading us to hypothesize the relevance of complementarity effects. However, we further postulate that a selection effect may operate also because assemblages with low evenness were dominated by diatoms with specific functional traits increasing their ability to exploit resources more efficiently.
Pressure in academia and science is rapidly increasing and early career researchers (ECRs) have a lot to gain from being involved in research initiatives such as large international projects. But just how inclusive are they? Here we discuss experiences of ECRs directly involved in the Marine Ecosystem Assessment for the Southern Ocean (MEASO), an Australian led international research project to assess the status and trends of Southern Ocean ecosystems. We review the benefits of ECR involvement in large-scale initiatives to the project deliverables, the leadership team and ECRs themselves. Using insights from MEASO, we outline the obstacles that may become barriers to ECRs in scientific research in general but with a focus on large-scale research projects and suggest potential actions to overcome these at the individual, institutional and scientific community level. We consider the potential for ECRs to lead future Antarctic science programmes with a focus on science communication and applied research for policy makers within a global setting.
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.