Maintaining Resilient Ecosystems
Biodiversity is an essential component of maintaining healthy coral reefs. Healthy reef ecosystems with high biodiversity (a full complement of species and communities) are more likely to survive mass bleaching and other global stresses than less diverse systems. When multiple species occupy similar niches on the reef, disease, predation or other pressures affecting a single species are balanced by the presence of unaffected species that fill the ecological gap. But when biodiversity is low, those few species can be depleted by a single source of stress. Therefore, representation of all biodiversity is essential in MPA Network design.
The representation criteria of MPA design seeks to achieve protection of the full range of habitats and communities within the region, through adequate representation, replication, and resilience characteristics. Representative MPAs that are replicated in a well-connected network are more likely to lead to persistence and resilience in response to climate changes.
The first step in planning for adequate representation is to assess the habitat types and distribution in the region. Large scale biogeographical classifications of a region (i.e., ecoregion1) provide only a coarse description of the biodiversity in the area. Finer scale classifications (i.e., habitat level) may be required in order to adequately represent the range of biodiversity in the area. Representation at the habitat scale assumes that by representing all habitats, most elements of biodiversity (species, communities, etc.) will also be represented in the MPA network.
Reef classifications should be developed using information about:
- reef types
- major reef zones: barrier, fore reef, spur & groove, reef crest, back reef, etc.
- waves, winds, currents, depth
- distance from shore
- neighboring and linked habitats
- condition: biodiversity, level of use, threats, bleaching responses