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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 427:191-217 (2011)  -  DOI:

Seascape ecology of coastal biogenic habitats: advances, gaps, and challenges

Christoffer Boström1,*, Simon J. Pittman2,3, Charles Simenstad4, Ronald T. Kneib5,6

1Åbo Akademi University, Department of Biosciences, Environmental and Marine Biology, Artillerigatan 6, 20520 Åbo, Finland
2National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Biogeography Branch, 1305 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA
3University of the Virgin Islands, Marine Science Center, 2 John Brewer’s Bay, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands 00802, USA
4School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Box 355020, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-5020, USA
5University of Georgia Marine Institute, Sapelo Island, Georgia 31327, USA
6RTK Consulting Services, 10 Taza Trail, Hillsboro, New Mexico 88042, USA

ABSTRACT: We review the progress made in the emerging field of coastal seascape ecology, i.e. the application of landscape ecology concepts and techniques to the coastal marine environment. Since the early 1990s, the landscape ecology approach has been applied in several coastal subtidal and intertidal biogenic habitats across a range of spatial scales. Emerging evidence indicates that animals in these seascapes respond to the structure of patches and patch mosaics in different ways and at different spatial scales, yet we still know very little about the ecological significance of these relationships and the consequences of change in seascape patterning for ecosystem functioning and overall biodiversity. Ecological interactions that occur within patches and among different types of patches (or seascapes) are likely to be critically important in maintaining primary and secondary production, trophic transfer, biodiversity, coastal protection, and supporting a wealth of ecosystem goods and services. We review faunal responses to patch and seascape structure, including effects of fragmentation on 5 focal habitats: seagrass meadows, salt marshes, coral reefs, mangrove forests, and oyster reefs. Extrapolating and ­generalizing spatial relationships between ecological patterns and processes across scales remains a significant challenge, and we show that there are major gaps in our understanding of these relationships. Filling these gaps will be crucial for managing and responding to an inevitably changing coastal environment. We show that critical ecological thresholds exist in the structural patterning of biogenic ecosystems that, when exceeded, cause abrupt shifts in the distribution and abundance of organisms. A better understanding of faunal–seascape relationships, including the identifications of threshold effects, is ­urgently needed to support the development of more effective and holistic management actions in restoration, site prioritization, and forecasting the impacts of environmental change.

KEY WORDS: Landscape ecology · Seascape · Fragmentation · Scale · Edge effects · Patch size · ­Thresholds · Connectivity

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Cite this article as: Boström C, Pittman SJ, Simenstad C, Kneib RT (2011) Seascape ecology of coastal biogenic habitats: advances, gaps, and challenges. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 427:191-217.

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