Identifying Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems: An image-based vulnerability index for the Southern Ocean seafloor
A significant proportion of Southern Ocean seafloor biodiversity is thought to be associated with fragile, slow growing, long-lived, and habitat-forming taxa. Minimizing adverse impact to these so-called vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) is a conservation priority that is often managed by relying on fisheries bycatch data, combined with threshold-based conservation rules in which all “indicator” taxa are considered equal. However, VME indicator taxa have different vulnerabilities to fishing disturbance and more consideration needs to be given to how these taxa may combine to form components of ecosystems with high conservation value. Here, we propose a multi-criteria approach to VME identification that explicitly considers multiple taxa identified from imagery as VME indicator morpho-taxa. Each VME indicator morpho-taxon is weighted differently, based on its vulnerability to fishing. Using the “Antarctic Seafloor Annotated Imagery Database”, where 53 VME indicator morpho-taxa were manually annotated generating >40000 annotations, we computed an index of cumulative abundance and overall richness and assigned it to spatial grid cells. Our analysis quantifies the assemblage-level vulnerability to fishing, and allows assemblages to be characterized, e.g. as highly diverse or highly abundant. The implementation of this quantitative method is intended to enhance VME identification and contextualize the bycatch events.
Authors: Gros, Charley, Jansen, Jan, Untiedt, Candice, Pearman, Tabitha R.R., Downey, Rachel, Barnes, David K.A. ORCID record for David K.A. Barnes, Bowden, David A., Welsford, Dirk C., Hill, Nicole A.