The Importance of Habitat Forming Species for Conservation of Coastal Biodiversity

Australia is home to one of the most diverse and unique coastal marine ecosystems on earth. The temperate east coast of Australia in particular has some of the highest numbers of species found nowhere else in the world. However, human impacts such as climate change, pollution, habitat loss and invasive species severely threaten the future of these ecosystems. Species that form complex habitats (e.g. seaweeds, mussel beds) are important drivers of biodiversity due to the large number of species that they harbour. Up to 90% of all coastal biodiversity in Australia can be found in these habitats. Therefore, these species are increasingly advocated as a vital component of coastal biodiversity conservation. Conservation and management efforts are currently hampered by a paucity of information concerning the processes that underpin biodiversity. Key gaps in our knowledge include a poor understanding of whether the influence of habitat-forming species on biodiversity changes throughout their range, and how habitat-forming species respond to changing climatic conditions and what the consequences of those changes may be for associated biodiversity. It is imperative that we establish a rigorous scientific understanding of the mechanisms that promote biodiversity.

This project by Hannah Lloyd of the University of Technology Sydney – a SIMS 2011 Horizon Foundation Doctoral Fellow will fill this knowledge gap, informing the development of adaptive management strategies for protecting marine intertidal biodiversity under predicted future climate change conditions. In collaboration with NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) and the Australian Museum this research project will answer these fundamental ecological questions for a range of habitat-forming species by using a highly innovative macro-ecological approach, combining latitudinal surveys with experiments conducted throughout NSW. This research will have massive applied conservation value globally, through the determination of the mechanisms by which habitat-forming species control biodiversity. The results of this research will feed directly into the NSW DPI Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting Program for Marine & Coastal Waters which currently lacks a robust management plan for conserving coastal marine ecosystems.

Hannah Lloyd