Ecological communities typically change along gradients of human impact, although it is difficult to estimate the footprint of impacts for diffuse threats such as pollution. We developed a joint model (i.e., one that includes multiple species and their interactions with each other and
environmental covariates) of benthic habitats on lagoonal coral reefs and used it to infer change in benthic composition along a gradient of distance from logging operations. The model estimated both changes in abundances of benthic groups and their compositional turnover, a type of beta diversity.
We used the model to predict the footprint of turbidity impacts from past and recent logging. Benthic communities far from logging were dominated by branching corals, whereas communities close to logging had higher cover of dead coral, massive corals, and soft sediment. Recent impacts were
predicted to be small relative to the extensive impacts of past logging because recent logging has occurred far from lagoonal reefs. Our model can be used more generally to estimate the footprint of human impacts on ecosystems and evaluate the benefits of conservation actions for ecosystems.
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