Relating Landscape Development Intensity to Coral Reef Condition in the Watersheds of St. Croix, US Virgin Islands

This study relates coral reef condition to human modifications of the landscape. Stony coral community richness, cover, colony size, and density were assessed along with 3-dimensional coral cover in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, in 2006 and 2007. Land use/land cover data (LULC) and a landscape development intensity (LDI) index, an indicator of human activity calculated from the LULC data, were used to explore relationships with coral indicators. Human activity, measured by the LDI index, was negatively correlated with various indicators of coral condition, including taxa richness, colony size, and colony density. The LDI index is an effective landscape indicator of human impact on St. Croix corals, highlighting the link between land-based human activity and marine ecosystems.

The finding of a negative correlation between the watershed LDI index and coral condition indicators is consistent with expectations that higher human land-use activity adversely affects coral condition. The strength and significance of the relationships from this exploratory examination reveal a strong potential for this approach to demonstrate the cumulative effect of human watershed stressors on coral reef ecosystems.

Author: Oliver, L.M., J.C. Lehrter, and W.S. Fisher
Year: 2011
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Marine Ecology Progress Series 427: 293-302. doi:10.3354/meps09087

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