Developing and refining biological indicators for condition assessments in an integrated monitoring program

Collier, Catherine J., Langlois, Lucas, Zemoi, Rahel, Martin, Katherine, and McKenzie, Len (2016) Developing and refining biological indicators for condition assessments in an integrated monitoring program. Report. James Cook University, Cairns, Australia.

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[Extract] Indicators representative of ecosystem condition are required for the long-term monitoring of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in a Reef Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMREP), which tracks progress towards Reef 2050 Plan targets and objectives. Seagrass meadows are highly sensitive to climatic conditions and environmental pressures such as water quality, as seen through recent (past 10 years) changes in abundance in the GBR (McKenzie, et al., 2016). Due to these impacts, GBR seagrass meadows underwent a period of decline from 2009 to 2011. Widespread loss of seagrass occurred, but in 2015 many meadows had started recovering.

The storage reserves within seagrass rhizomes were tested for suitability as a complimentary indicator in the MMP/RIMREP because previous studies had suggested that they are good indicators. We set out to test the relationships between total non-structural carbohydrates (TNSC) and seagrass condition (i.e. trend in abundance, either declining pre 2011 or recovering post 2011), seagrass abundance, water temperature and daily light in a temporal analysis using linear models. Samples were collected quarterly from 2008 to 2015 from four locations (8 sites) for three species (917 samples in total) in the Wet Tropics and Burdekin regions. TNSC was significantly (p<0.001) lower pre 2011 during the period of decline (181and 192 mg gDW-1for intertidal sites pooled and subtidal sites pooled, respectively) than post 2011 during recovery (277 and 289 mg gDW-1) for H. uninervis. A similar trend was observed for T. hemprichii, which occurred at intertidal sites only (168 mg gDW-1 in decline and 208 mg gDW-1in recovery), but not for C. serrulata which had the fewest available data points. The differences were even greater when investigating individual sites. TNSC were also correlated (p<0.001) to seagrass abundance during both the decline and recovery phases. TNSC was positively correlated to water temperature, though the period being assessed was relatively mild in terms of temperature extremes. Therefore, light was the main pressure assessed in this project. A direct effect of light limitation (daily light, average of 30 days prior to TNSC collection) on TNSC was not observed, in fact there was a slight negative effect of light in some analyses. This was contrary to our hypothesis, as low light, at least in part, drove declines in seagrass abundance from 2009 –2011. In an additional spatial analysis, differences in TNSC among regions and habitat types were assessed from 39 sites collected in late 2014 across the GBR. This spatial analysis was carried out to explore representativeness of the sites used in the temporal analysis. There was little difference in TNSC among habitats; however, TNSC varied among NRMs and were lowest in the Mackay Whitsunday and Fitzroy NRMs.

This exploration of storage reserves, undertaken at a time of dynamic meadow changes, has yielded exciting results on their variation with meadow condition and abundance. However, we did not provide conclusive evidence to support the inclusion of TNSC as an indicator in monitoring programs such as the MMP at this stage, because the link to the main environmental pressure tested –light –was not demonstrated by this analysis. Irrespective of this, TNSC was an indicator of cumulative stress (being correlated to abundance and condition), but the specific pressure(s) could not be identified. This provides justification for further inquiry into the effect of other pressures (e.g. nutrients and flood plume exposure), other biological processes (e.g. reproduction and meadow expansion) and to obtain further data on other species.

We also tested the relationship between %cover and biomass, with the aim of developing biomass calibration formulae. Above-ground biomass and %cover was measured in seven mono-specific meadows for four species and four habitat types. Above ground biomass was highly correlated (p<0.001) to % cover, and the correlation was further improved (lower AIC) by factoring canopy height into the calibration. Even after canopy height was included in the calibration, canopy height strongly affected the calibration values and highlighted the importance of habitat/morphology-specific calibration formulae. Further work is required to capture all species and habitat/morphology combinations that are routinely monitored. With further work, these calibration values will enable integration among seagrass monitoring programs including Queensland Ports Seagrass Monitoring Program and GBR historical baseline data.

Item ID: 49810
Item Type: Report (Report)
ISBN: 978-1-925088-80-9
Additional Information:

Final Report.

Project 3.4: Developing and refining biological indicators for condition assessments in an integrated monitoring program.

Developing and refining biological indicators for condition assessments in an integrated monitoring program is licensed by James Cook University for use under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Australia licence. For licence conditions see:

Funders: National Environmental Science Programme (NESP)
Date Deposited: 15 Aug 2017 22:07
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0607 Plant Biology > 060701 Phycology (incl Marine Grasses) @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050206 Environmental Monitoring @ 40%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0607 Plant Biology > 060705 Plant Physiology @ 10%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960802 Coastal and Estuarine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 40%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9611 Physical and Chemical Conditions of Water > 961102 Physical and Chemical Conditions of Water in Coastal and Estuarine Environments @ 40%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960503 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Coastal and Estuarine Environments @ 20%
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