Optimal scales to observe habitat dynamics: a coral reef example
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Habeeb, R and Johnson, CR and Wotherspoon, SJ and Mumby, PJ, Optimal scales to observe habitat dynamics: a coral reef example, Ecological Applications, 17, (3) pp. 641-647. ISSN 1051-0761 (2007) [Refereed Article]
A new technique to estimate the characteristic length scales (CLSs) of real ecological systems provides an objective means to identify the optimal scale(s) of observation to best detect underlying dynamical trends. Application of the technique to natural systems has focused on identifying appropriate scales to measure the dynamics of species as descriptors of community and ecosystem dynamics. However, ecosystem monitoring is often based not on assessing single species, but on species assemblages, functional groups, or habitat types. We asked whether the concept of CLSs based on dynamic interactions among species could be extended to examine interactions among habitat types and thus to identify optimal scales for observing habitat dynamics. A time series of three spatial maps of benthic habitats on a Caribbean coral reef was constructed from aerial photographs, Compact Airborne Spectrographic Imager (CASI) images, and IKONOS satellite images, providing the short time sequence required for this technique. We estimated the CLS based on the dynamics of three distinct habitat types: dense stands of seagrass, sparse stands of seagrass, and Montastrea patch reefs. Despite notable differences in the areal extent of and relative change in these habitats over the 21-year observation period, analyses based on each habitat type indicated a similar CLS of ∼300 m. We interpret the consistency of CLSs among habitats to indicate that the dynamics of the three habitat types are linked. The results are encouraging, and they indicate that CLS techniques can be used to identify the appropriate scale at which to monitor ecosystem trends on the basis of the dynamics of only one of a disparate suite of habitat types. © 2007 by the Ecological Society of America.
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