Charting a course toward diagnostic monitoring: A continuing review of coral reef attributes and a research strategy for creating coral reef indexes of biotic integrity
The non-diagnostic nature of most coral reef monitoring programs limits the ability of scientists, managers, and agency staff to communicate trends in the condition of coral reef systems to the public or politicians. Moreover, monitoring programs have neither been designed to identify the specific causes of coral reef decline nor to formulate or evaluate the effectiveness of conservation or remediation plans. Efforts to protect and restore coral reef resources should explicitly track the biological condition of these ecosystems the way we track local and national economies or diagnose personal health through the application of appropriately defined indicators. The use of calibrated metrics that integrate the influence of all forms of degradation caused by human actions can improve diagnostic, curative, restorative and preventive actions. To improve this situation, we propose a framework for the definition of coral reef multimetric indexes of biotic integrity (IBI), including a discussion of how existing research advances this framework. Our research strategy recognizes the value of looking at six components of regional biotas: sessile epibenthos, benthic macroinvertebrates, fish, macrophytes, phytoplankton, and zooplankton. Understanding the tolerance and intolerance of coral reef taxa to chemical contaminants or other human influences (habitat destruction, overharvest), singly or in combination, is crucial to creation of an effective IBI. The research strategy outlined here provides a starting point based on successful efforts in other environments (e.g., streams, wetlands). The biological attributes selected as metrics in an IBI as well as their specific responses to the many effects of human actions must be specified by pilot program research. Additional steps to be accomplished include development of a coral reef classification system, definition of reference condition (regional ecological expectations), and documentation of sample effort and analytical procedures needed for handling coral reef data.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2001-09-01
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