A multi‐metric fish index to assess the environmental condition of estuaries
The development of a multi‐metric fish index, the Estuarine Fish Community Index (EFCI), for assessing estuarine environments is described. The index comprises 14 metrics or measures that represent four broad fish community attributes: species diversity and composition, species abundance, nursery function and trophic integrity. The individual metrics were evaluated using data that were collected on a South African estuary that was degraded and in which rehabilitation measures were implemented. The evaluation suggested that the selected metrics adequately measure the condition of separate but related components of estuarine fish communities and that these reflect environmental condition. Reference conditions and metric thresholds were derived from fish community data collected during an extensive national study. The final multi‐metric index was then constructed and evaluated. The EFCI combines both structural and functional attributes of estuarine fish communities and integrates these to provide both a robust and sensitive method for assessing the ecological condition of estuarine systems. It is also an effective communication tool for converting ecological information into an easily understood format for managers, policy makers and the general public.
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