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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 15;8(10):e75767. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075767. eCollection 2013.

Conserving biodiversity in a human-dominated world: degradation of marine sessile communities within a protected area with conflicting human uses.

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  • 1CESAB-FRB, Immeuble Henri PoincarĂ© - Domaine du Petit Arbois, Aix-en-Provence, France ; IRD - UR 227 Coreus - Laboratoire Arago, Banyuls/mer, France.


Conservation research aims at understanding whether present protection schemes are adequate for the maintenance of ecosystems structure and function across time. We evaluated long-term variation in rocky reef communities by comparing sites surveyed in 1993 and again in 2008. This research took place in Tigullio Gulf, an emblematic case study where various conservation measures, including a marine protected area, have been implemented to manage multiple human uses. Contrary to our prediction that protection should have favored ecosystem stability, we found that communities subjected to conservation measures (especially within the marine protected area) exhibited the greatest variation toward architectural complexity loss. Between 1993 and 2008, chronic anthropogenic pressures (especially organic load) that had already altered unprotected sites in 1993 expanded their influence into protected areas. This expansion of human pressure likely explains our observed changes in the benthic communities. Our results suggest that adaptive ecosystem-based management (EBM), that is management taking into account human interactions, informed by continuous monitoring, is needed in order to attempt reversing the current trend towards less architecturally complex communities. Protected areas are not sufficient to stop ecosystem alteration by pressures coming from outside. Monitoring, and consequent management actions, should therefore extend to cover the relevant scales of those pressures.

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