Simplified assessment could help resource managers decide where to focus efforts
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Global warming has spurred dire warnings about the future of coral reef ecosystems, with warnings that many reefs could be wiped out by bleaching, sending biologists scrambling to develop conservation strategies.
A sometimes bewildering array of coral reef environments makes the task daunting, but a new study may illustrate a way to streamline coral reef conservation decisions.
Heat-tolerant species living in areas with continuous background temperature variability have the best chance of surviving climate change, according new studies by the Wildlife Conservation Society and other researchers. These corals should be the focus of conservation efforts, the study concludes.
The research was part of an effort to develop a simplified assessment with 11 key and easily measured factors. This gives coral reef managers a cost-effective, evidence-based tool for gauging a reef’s chances of survival.
“Coral reefs are astoundingly complex systems,” said Dr. Tim McClanahan, lead author of the study and head of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s coral reef research and conservation program. “This reality sometimes leads to the assumption that evaluations and management strategies must also be complex. Our study reveals, however, that effective conservation decisions may hinge on a few easily measurable factors, and this can promote faster management actions.”
The study was based on field work done by WCS in Karimunjawa Marine Park, located on the coast of Java in Indonesia, McClanahan and his co-authors examined a more complex assessment tool with more than 60 factors, including herbivorous fish diversity, bio-erosion rates, hard coral cover, and many others.
The scientists whittled the list down to 11 factors, the most important being the presence of heat-resistant coral species and background temperature variability. Applying the simplified model to the data collected in Karimunjawa Marine Park resulted in new results, suggesting that largely unimportant factors biased the selection of sites in the first assessment while increasing the costs of the investigation.
The new model may offer a potentially valuable, cost-effective tool for ranking the resilience of coral reef systems, but McClanahan said that further research is needed to evaluate the priority and types of heat-resistant corals and temperature variability needed for conservation planning.
He said that one of the more exciting outputs was that the study prioritized future investigations by identifying factors that are least agreed on among scientists and that have the highest potential to promote the resilience of coral reefs.
“This method gives us a foundation for what could become an indispensible assessment tool for identifying conservation priorities,” added McClanahan. “We suspect this protocol will drive investigations for the next decade.”
The results of the study were published last week in the online journal PLOS ONE.
Filed under: biodiversity, climate and weather, coral reefs, endangered species, Environment, global warming Tagged: | coral reef conservation, coral reefs, Environment, global warming, oceans, Wildlife Conservation Society