Research, monitoring and management of large marine protected areas require detailed and up-to-date habitat maps. Ningaloo Marine Park (including the Muiron Islands) in north-western Australia (stretching across three degrees of latitude) was mapped to 20 m depth using HyMap airborne hyperspectral imagery (125 bands) at 3.5 m resolution across the 762 km(2) of reef environment between the shoreline and reef slope. The imagery was corrected for atmospheric, air-water interface and water column influences to retrieve bottom reflectance and bathymetry using the physics-based Modular Inversion and Processing System. Using field-validated, image-derived spectra from a representative range of cover types, the classification combined a semi-automated, pixel-based approach with fuzzy logic and derivative techniques. Five thematic classification levels for benthic cover (with probability maps) were generated with varying degrees of detail, ranging from a basic one with three classes (biotic, abiotic and mixed) to the most detailed with 46 classes. The latter consisted of all abiotic and biotic seabed components and hard coral growth forms in dominant or mixed states. The overall accuracy of mapping for the most detailed maps was 70% for the highest classification level. Macro-algal communities formed most of the benthic cover, while hard and soft corals represented only about 7% of the mapped area (58.6 km(2)). Dense tabulate coral was the largest coral mosaic type (37% of all corals) and the rest of the corals were a mix of tabulate, digitate, massive and soft corals. Our results show that for this shallow, fringing reef environment situated in the arid tropics, hyperspectral remote sensing techniques can offer an efficient and cost-effective approach to mapping and monitoring reef habitats over large, remote and inaccessible areas.
Monitoring changes in coral cover and composition through space and time can provide insights to reef health and assist the focus of management and conservation efforts. We used a meta-analytical approach to assess coral cover data across latitudes 10-35°S along the west Australian coast, including 25 years of data from the Ningaloo region. Current estimates of coral cover ranged between 3 and 44% in coral habitats. Coral communities in the northern regions were dominated by corals from the families Acroporidae and Poritidae, which became less common at higher latitudes. At Ningaloo Reef coral cover has remained relatively stable through time (?28%), although north-eastern and southern areas have experienced significant declines in overall cover. These declines are likely related to periodic disturbances such as cyclones and thermal anomalies, which were particularly noticeable around 1998/1999 and 2010/2011. Linear mixed effects models (LME) suggest latitude explains 10% of the deviance in coral cover through time at Ningaloo. Acroporidae has decreased in abundance relative to other common families at Ningaloo in the south, which might be related to persistence of more thermally and mechanically tolerant families. We identify regions where quantitative time-series data on coral cover and composition are lacking, particularly in north-western Australia. Standardising routine monitoring methods used by management and research agencies at these, and other locations, would allow a more robust assessment of coral condition and a better basis for conservation of coral reefs.
Pelagic ecosystems support a significant and vital component of the oceans productivity and biodiversity. They are also heavily exploited and, as a result, are the focus of numerous spatial planning initiatives. Over the past decade, there has been increasing enthusiasm for protected areas as a tool for pelagic conservation, however, few have been implemented. Here we demonstrate an approach to plan protected areas that address the physical and biological dynamics typical of the pelagic realm. Specifically, we provide an example of an approach to planning protected areas that integrates pelagic and benthic conservation in the southern Benguela and Agulhas Bank ecosystems off South Africa. Our aim was to represent species of importance to fisheries and species of conservation concern within protected areas. In addition to representation, we ensured that protected areas were designed to consider pelagic dynamics, characterized from time-series data on key oceanographic processes, together with data on the abundance of small pelagic fishes. We found that, to have the highest likelihood of reaching conservation targets, protected area selection should be based on time-specific data rather than data averaged across time. More generally, we argue that innovative methods are needed to conserve ephemeral and dynamic pelagic biodiversity.
Fewer protected areas exist in the pelagic ocean than any other ecosystem on Earth. Although there is increasing support for marine protected areas (MPAs) as a tool for pelagic conservation, there have also been numerous criticisms of the ecological, logistical and economic feasibility of place-based management in the dynamic pelagic environment. Here we argue that recent advances across conservation, oceanography and fisheries science provide the evidence, tools and information to address these criticisms and confirm MPAs as defensible and feasible instruments for pelagic conservation. Debate over the efficacy of protected areas relative to other conservation measures cannot be resolved without further implementation of MPAs in the pelagic ocean.
The Western Australian rock lobster fishery has been both a highly productive and sustainable fishery. However, a recent dramatic and unexplained decline in post-larval recruitment threatens this sustainability. Our lack of knowledge of key processes in lobster larval ecology, such as their position in the food web, limits our ability to determine what underpins this decline. The present study uses a high-throughput amplicon sequencing approach on DNA obtained from the hepatopancreas of larvae to discover significant prey items. Two short regions of the 18S rRNA gene were amplified under the presence of lobster specific PNA to prevent lobster amplification and to improve prey amplification. In the resulting sequences either little prey was recovered, indicating that the larval gut was empty, or there was a high number of reads originating from multiple zooplankton taxa. The most abundant reads included colonial Radiolaria, Thaliacea, Actinopterygii, Hydrozoa and Sagittoidea, which supports the hypothesis that the larvae feed on multiple groups of mostly transparent gelatinous zooplankton. This hypothesis has prevailed as it has been tentatively inferred from the physiology of larvae, captive feeding trials and co-occurrence in situ. However, these prey have not been observed in the larval gut as traditional microscopic techniques cannot discern between transparent and gelatinous prey items in the gut. High-throughput amplicon sequencing of gut DNA has enabled us to classify these otherwise undetectable prey. The dominance of the colonial radiolarians among the gut contents is intriguing in that this group has been historically difficult to quantify in the water column, which may explain why they have not been connected to larval diet previously. Our results indicate that a PCR based technique is a very successful approach to identify the most abundant taxa in the natural diet of lobster larvae.
The Western Rocklobster (Panulirus cygnus) is the most valuable single species fishery in Australia and the largest single country spiny lobster fishery in the world. In recent years a well-known relationship between oceanographic conditions and lobster recruitment has become uncoupled, with significantly lower recruitment than expected, generating interest in the factors influencing survival and development of the planktonic larval stages. The nutritional requirements and wild prey of the planktotrophic larval stage (phyllosoma) of P. cygnus were previously unknown, hampering both management and aquaculture efforts for this species. Ship-board feeding trials of wild-caught mid-late stage P. cygnus phyllosoma in the eastern Indian Ocean, off the coast of Western Australia, were conducted in July 2010 and August-September 2011. In a series of experiments, phyllosoma were fed single and mixed species diets of relatively abundant potential prey items (chaetognaths, salps, and krill). Chaetognaths were consumed in 2-8 times higher numbers than the other prey, and the rate of consumption of chaetognaths increased with increasing concentration of prey. The highly variable lipid content of the phyllosoma, and the fatty acid profiles of the phyllosoma and chaetognaths, indicated they were from an oligotrophic oceanic food chain where food resources for macrozooplankton were likely to be constrained. Phyllosoma fed chaetognaths over 6 days showed significant changes in some fatty acids and tended to accumulate lipid, indicating an improvement in overall nutritional condition. The discovery of a preferred prey for P. cygnus will provide a basis for future oceanographic, management and aquaculture research for this economically and ecologically valuable species.
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