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Adv Mar Biol. 2006;50:57-189.

The functional value of Caribbean coral reef, seagrass and mangrove habitats to ecosystem processes.

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  • 1Marine Spatial Ecology Lab, School of Biosciences, Hatherly Laboratory, University of Exeter, UK.

Abstract

Caribbean coral reef habitats, seagrass beds and mangroves provide important goods and services both individually and through functional linkages. A range of anthropogenic factors are threatening the ecological and economic importance of these habitats and it is vital to understand how ecosystem processes vary across seascapes. A greater understanding of processes will facilitate further insight into the effects of disturbances and assist with assessing management options. Despite the need to study processes across whole seascapes, few spatially explicit ecosystem-scale assessments exist. We review the empirical literature to examine the role of different habitat types for a range of processes. The importance of each of 10 generic habitats to each process is defined as its "functional value" (none, low, medium or high), quantitatively derived from published data wherever possible and summarised in a single figure. This summary represents the first time the importance of habitats across an entire Caribbean seascape has been assessed for a range of processes. Furthermore, we review the susceptibility of each habitat to disturbances to investigate spatial patterns that might affect functional values. Habitat types are considered at the scale discriminated by remotely-sensed imagery and we envisage that functional values can be combined with habitat maps to provide spatially explicit information on processes across ecosystems. We provide examples of mapping the functional values of habitats for populations of three commercially important species. The resulting data layers were then used to generate seascape-scale assessments of "hot spots" of functional value that might be considered priorities for conservation. We also provide an example of how the literature reviewed here can be used to parameterise a habitat-specific model investigating reef resilience under different scenarios of herbivory. Finally, we use multidimensional scaling to provide a basic analysis of the overall functional roles of different habitats. The resulting ordination suggests that each habitat has a unique suite of functional values and, potentially, a distinct role within the ecosystem. This review shows that further data are required for many habitat types and processes, particularly forereef and escarpment habitats on reefs and for seagrass beds and mangroves. Furthermore, many data were collected prior to the regional mass mortality of Diadema and Acropora, and subsequent changes to benthic communities have, in many cases, altered a habitat's functional value, hindering the use of these data for parameterising maps and models. Similarly, few data exist on how functional values change when environmental parameters, such as water clarity, are altered by natural or anthropogenic influences or the effects of a habitat's spatial context within the seascape. Despite these limitations, sufficient data are available to construct maps and models to better understand tropical marine ecosystem processes and assist more effective mitigation of threats that alter habitats and their functional values.

PMID:
16782451
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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