Scientists provide new tool model to assess coral reef ecosystem risks.
For many years now, ecosystems around the world have been facing degradation and collapse as a result of environmental and human-induced changes. This collapse may involve large losses of biodiversity and both ecosystem functions and services, which would impact human well-being. Understanding the risk that ecosystem collapses represent is a fundamental requisite for conservation planning and adaptation to environmental change.
Within the IUCN criteria and framework, a group of scientists has recently devoted their efforts to the risk assessment of coral reefs; ecosystems which are vulnerable to a range of interacting threats, including climate change. This time the attention centered on the risk of collapse currently faced by the Meso-American Reef (MAR), a unique ecosystem containing the second largest barrier reef in the world. The MAR extends more than 1,000 km from Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, and northern Honduras. Over the last 50 years, it has been affected by multiple threats, including hurricanes, lionfish invasion, overfishing, pollution, ocean acidification, rising sea surface temperatures, and disease outbreaks among urchins and corals. The application of the Coral Reef Scenario Evaluation Tool model, based on the collation of a wide array of empirical data, allowed for the reconstruction of past ecosystem dynamics, as well as forecast future ecosystem dynamics under different scenarios of threat. As in many coral reefs around the world, threats are predicted to increase in the future, so there is an urgent need to understand interactions among threats and evaluate potential levers for management. The overall status of this ecosystem is Critically Endangered.
The case study “Using multiple lines of evidence to assess the risk of ecosystem collapse” provides a template for assessing risks to coral reefs and for further application of ecosystem risk assessment models. This is particularly important as the global conservation community looks towards assessing risks to coral reefs around the world, along with the species and ecosystem services they provide. With recent mass bleaching events across coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, identifying those areas most at risk, and diagnosing how they can be managed, is critical to our understanding of the future plight of reefs worldwide.
Written by: Emily Nicholson
Style and format: Ana María Fernández
Provita Nov 21, 2017