Heike K. Lotze
Department of Biology, Dalhousie University
This project aims to (1) develop a set of ecological metrics that best describe the ecosystem status of seagrass ecosystems, (2) assess how these metrics change across human impact gradients and existing management interventions, and (3) identify useful indicators for planning and evaluating management and conservation strategies. The development of sound management and conservation strategies is critical to maintaining their continued functions and services of coastal ecosystems, and their resilience in the face of future change.
Coastal ecosystems are home to a variety of complex vegetated habitats, including seagrass meadows, rockweed beds and kelp forests. These habitats are essential for the structure and functioning of the coastal ocean, the provision of important ecosystem services to humans, and the support of offshore fish populations and ecosystems. Yet coastal habitats are also the most impacted by cumulative human activities, including pollution, harvesting, aquaculture, invasive species and climate change.
Our analyses will be based on existing large-scale datasets on seagrass ecosystems across Atlantic Canada as well as additional data collection to cover a range of human impacts and existing management interventions. Our results will inform the selection of potential Areas of Interest (AOIs) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Canada’s coastal waters and the benefits derived from coastal conservation areas and management initiatives. As coastal ecosystems provide multiple ecosystem services to Canadians, ranging from recreation to the provision of raw materials, this research will contribute to the protection and continued provision of those services for future generations.
Data for seagrass ecosystems (e.g., fish diversity, plant cover) from 180 sites in 52 estuaries and bays have been compiled from past surveys to analyse changes in seagrass ecosystems across impact gradients
For each seagrass site and bay, data on multiple human impacts (e.g., land use, fishing activity) were compiled to develop a standardized human impact metric.
A watershed nutrient loading model has been developed that estimates nitrogen loading to 21 bays in Nova Scotia and 6 in Prince Edward Island to be incorporated into the standardized human impact metric.
A synthesis paper linking the seagrass ecosystem datasets to the standardized human impact measures is in preparation.
A framework for metrics chosen for conservation management of plant-based ecosystems will be developed.