Ecosystem Management

Research focused upon promoting sustainable coastal development, facilitating community resiliency, and enabling NOAA’s ecosystem approach to management in the Southeast U.S. coastal ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystems by enhancing scientific understanding of the interconnections between the marine ecosystem and the adjacent watershed including their human health and resource stewardship implications. This research theme focus (and the following one) specifically include human dimensions science in addition to physical and biological science.

Below are two representative project under this theme:

  1. Coral Reef Fish-Habitat Modeling to Support Ecosystem-Based Management by J.S. Ault and S.G. Smith (UM/RSMAS); G.T. Kellison (NOAA/NMFS)
  2. Marine and Estuarine Goal Setting for South Florida (MARES) by P. Ortner and C. Kelble (UM/CIMAS); P. Fletcher (UF/FSG); L. Johns (NOAA/AOML)

Representative Projects


Coral Reef Fish-Habitat Modeling to Support Ecosystem-Based Management

J.S. Ault and S.G. Smith (UM/RSMAS); G.T. Kellison (NOAA/NMFS)
 

Long Term Research Objectives and Strategy to Achieve Them:

Objectives: To improve understanding of the relationships between habitat characteristics and coral reef fish community structure as a critical step in facilitating the transition to Ecosystem Based Management (EBM), including determining optimal sizes, numbers, and locations of MPAs. This provides improved understanding via the development of multi-species habitat suitability models.

Strategy: To accomplish this we utilize newly available benthic habitat and marine topography data to assess habitat complexity over multiple scales; use spatially-explicit reef fish data to develop predictive models relating seascape variables, habitat complexity, and biophysical processes to coral reef fish community structure in coral reef ecosystems; and, identify potential areas within the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem for ecosystem management and conservation actions.

 

Our research in habitat suitability models allows fishery managers to: (1) identify fundamental relationships governing fish community structure, dynamics, and responses to environmental changes and anthropogenic impacts; (2) devise cost-effective sampling strategies to assess the effects of exploitation and management actions; and, (3) predict optimal areas for management actions (e.g., establishment of MPAs). These models are an essential component of successful ecosystem-based fisheries management. Our work utilizes, builds on and compliments ongoing state andfederal monitoring efforts in the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem, and will provide output that will be used to improve sampling design for these monitoring efforts, which in turn will lead to improved data quality to support ecosystem-based management (EBM). Thus, our work will begin a positive feedback loop that will continually improve our ability to perform wise and effective EBM in the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem.

Figure 1. Multivariable spatial statistical model estimate of species abundance as a function of depth and habitat for bicolor damselfish (Stegastes partitus) in the Dry Tortugas region. Size of colored (purple) circle indicates relative animal density; open (white) circles indicate no animals were seen with the primary sampling by four replicate diver observations.

Our research work supports multiple projects, goals and objectives identified in Local Action Strategies under the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) and the FKNMS. From an perspective MPA design and assessment, our work is integral to FKNMS resource management for evaluating likely effectiveness and ecosystem impact of existing marine protected areas (i.e., MPAs or Sanctuary Preservation Areas SPAs in FKNMS) relative to alternate types of traditional management scenarios. Our work is also of considerable value to resource managers in the National Park Service (i.e., Biscayne National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park). For example, Biscayne National Park is currently using results from our research to assist the analysis of establishment of MPAs as part of their General Management and Fisheries Management Plans.

Figure 2. Relationship of a black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci) to preferred coral reef habitat of stony corals, octocorals and sponges in a high rugosity environment in the Dry Tortugas region of the Florida Keys.

 

 

Marine and Estuarine Goal Setting for South Florida (MARES)

P. Ortner and C. Kelble (UM/CIMAS); P. Fletcher (UF/FSG); L. Johns (NOAA/AOML)
 

Long Term Research Objectives and Strategy to Achieve Them:

Objectives: To reach a science-based consensus about the defining characteristics and fundamental regulating processes of a South Florida coastal marine ecosystem that is both sustainable and capable of providing the diverse ecological services upon which our society depends.

Strategy: Develop ICEM models for critical subregions, and based upon these through series of subsequent meetings and briefings identify quantitative ecosystem indicators and establish an annual South Florida coastal ecosystem report card.

 

MARES (www.sofla-mares.org) is a three year project funded by NOS/CSCOR whose goal is to reach a science-based consensus about the defining characteristics and fundamental regulating processes of a South Florida coastal marine ecosystem that is both sustainable and capable of providing the diverse ecological services upon which our society depends. MARES represents a unique collaboration amongst academic and government natural and human dimensions scientists working with public and private stakeholders. The first step in the MARS process is to sequentially develop Integrated Conceptual Ecosystem Models (ICEMs) for critical sub-regions (SW Florida Shelf, Florida Keys and SE Florida shelf. Figure 1 is the ICEM for the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. It is a modification of the DPSIR (Drivers/Pressures/Stresses/Indicators/Responses) used by the EPA in ecological risk assessment contexts. These models and a series of subsequent meetings and briefings are being used to identify quantitative ecosystem indicators. The process is
proceeding on schedule. Specifically, a rollout workshop was held this last Fall at UM/RSMAS immediately after the project was initiated in October 2009. This was followed by two workshops for the first of the sub-regions to be characterized: the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. The first workshop in December, 2009 at FIU was used to develop the Integrated Conceptual Ecological Model for this domain. A cartoon of the model and sub-models included in the ICEM (and their spatial relationship) is provided in Figure 2. The second workshop in early April 2010 was to begin the process of developing the quantitative indicators for the same domain. At the same time MARES leadership has held briefings for the SFER Science Subgroup, the CERP/RECOVER RLG and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Technical Advisory Committee.

Figure 1. Integrated Conceptual Ecological Model (ICEM) for the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas: a modification of EPA’s DPSR (Drivers-Pressures-States-Responses) framework.

MARES will eventually yield a South Florida Marine Ecosystem Report Card that will assist natural resource and environmental managers of South Florida to effectively implement ecosystem based management (EBM). The need to conduct EBM has become the focus of several new NOAA initiatives, Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEAs) and Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP). Both initiatives are aimed at integrating human- and natural-system needs for the development of effective EBM. MARES hopes to provide a model process for integrating the human- and natural-system to; 1) develop ICEMS, 2) develop indicators, 3) assess the ecosystem and 4) set ecosystem goals. All four are key components of IEAs and likely CMSP. The development and subsequent utilization of science-based ecosystem goals that incorporate both the human- and natural-systems will represent significant progress towards enacting EBM in south Florida. This MARES process can be emulated in other regions for IEA and CMSP purposes.

Figure 2. Near-field and far-field influences on the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas Region.