Coral reef biodiversity and conservation

Baird, Andrew H,, Bellwood, David R., Connell, Joseph H., Cornell, Howard V., Hughes, Terry P., Karlson, Ronald H., and Rosen, Brian R. (2002) Coral reef biodiversity and conservation. Science, 296 (5570). pp. 1026-1028.

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Abstract

[Extract] In their report, "marine biodiversity hotspots and conservation priorities for coral reefs," C. M. Roberts et al. (15 Feb., p. 1280) present a strategy for marine conservation based on centers of endemicity. They define "endemics" as species that occur in ≤ 10 square grids of ocean that contain coral reefs (each cell being 5 × 104 km2), regardless of the spatial distribution of occupied cells. As a consequence, endemicity and location are confounded. Where all grid cells containing reefs are contiguous, an endemic would have a geographic range the size of the Great Barrier Reef, the largest reef system in the world. Alternatively, on isolated oceanic reefs, an endemic occupying 10 dispersed cells could stretch across an ocean. Ignoring this distinction, Roberts et al. attempt to show concordance in patterns of endemicity among fish, corals, snails, and lobsters. However, many of these "multitaxa centers of endemism" have no endemic corals. As the architects of reefs upon which so many other species depend, corals cannot be dismissed as an unimportant exception. Furthermore, Roberts et al. confuse centers of marine endemicity and centers of high biodiversity (i.e., true hotspots), stating that "centers of endemism are major biodiversity hotspots" (p. 1280). Instead, many of the apparent centers of endemism they identify are very small marginal locations with low overall diversity (e.g., Cape Verde Islands and Easter Island). Furthermore, in an era of global warming, we caution against using conservation strategies that focus heavily on endemics. It would be interesting to use climate modeling to predict which coral reef regions are most at risk and to what extent they differ from the 18 locations identified by Roberts et al.

Roberts et al. also state the advantages of integrating terrestrial and marine conservation programs, yet they mention no linkage between the Great Barrier Reef and the adjoining mainland of Australia, where clearing of rainforest, savanna, and mangroves is a growing concern. Conversely, they match Lord Howe Island with the "adjacent" terrestrial hotspot of New Zealand (which is farther away than either Australia or New Caledonia). It is difficult to see the practicality of "[e]xtending terrestrial conservation efforts seaward" (p. 1284) across 2000 km of cold Southern Ocean between New Zealand's fjords and Lord Howe Island's balmy coral reefs. Arguably, counts of species or endemics tell us very little about the biology or conservation status of different regions. Knowledge of regional-scale variation in functional groups and the processes affecting their abundances would provide a far better foundation for protecting coral reefs.

Item ID: 26637
Item Type: Article (Short Note)
ISSN: 1095-9203
Date Deposited: 24 Jun 2013 01:16
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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