High vulnerability and a big conservation gap: mapping the vulnerability of coastal scleractinian corals in South China

Highlights

  • The first vulnerability map for scleractinian corals along the coast of South China was created.
  • An approach combining vulnerability components and habitat suitability models was developed.
  • 37.7 % of the potential coral habitats were highly vulnerable.
  • Only 21.6 % of the coral habitats were protected, indicating a large conservation gap.

Abstract

Scleractinian corals build the most complex and diverse ecosystems in the ocean with various ecosystem services, yet continue to be degraded by natural and anthropogenic stressors. Despite the rapid decline in scleractinian coral habitats in South China, they are among the least concerning in global coral vulnerability maps. This study developed a rapid assessment approach that combines vulnerability components and species distribution models to map coral vulnerability within a large region based on limited data. The approach contained three aspects including, exposure, habitat suitability, and coral-conservation-based adaptive capacity. The exposure assessment was based on seven indicators, and the habitat suitability was mapped using Maximum Entropy and Random Forest models. Vulnerability of scleractinian corals in South China was spatially evaluated using the approach developed here. The results showed that the average exposure of the study region was 0.62, indicating relatively high pressure. The highest exposure occurred from the east coast of the Leizhou Peninsula to the Pearl River Estuary. Aquaculture and shipping were the most common causes of exposure. Highly suitable habitats for scleractinian corals are concentrated between 18°N–22°N. Only 21.6 % of the potential coral habitats are included in marine protected areas, indicating that there may still be large conservation gaps for scleractinian corals in China. In total, 37.7 % of the potential coral habitats were highly vulnerable, with the highest vulnerability appearing in the Guangdong Province. This study presents the first attempt to map the vulnerability of scleractinian corals along the coast of South China. The proposed approach and findings provide an essential tool and information supporting the sustainable management and conservation of coral reef ecosystems, addressing an important gap on the world’s coral reef vulnerability map.

Hu W., Zheng X., Li Y., Du J., Lv Y., Su., Xiao B., Ye X., Jiang Q., Tan H., Liao B. & Chen B., in press. High vulnerability and a big conservation gap: mapping the vulnerability of coastal scleractinian corals in South China. Science of The Total Environment. Article (subscription required).


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