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Filling gaps in global assessments of ecosystems to benefit coastal wetland conservation

The conservation of coastal wetland ecosystems, seagrass, saltmarsh and mangroves, receives less attention than other higher profile coastal ecosystems, like coral reefs. In a new study we highlight how filling gaps in the assessment of coastal wetlands may help advance coastal wetlands.

Ecosystem assessment frameworks, like the Ocean Health Index, the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems and environmental-economic accounting systems, play important roles in management and conservation (see below image).

Lifecycle of an indicator

Image: Lifecycle of ecosystem assessments and conservation action. Image from the study and created by Ryan Pearson.

Assessments motivate data collection and synthesis of the status of ecosystems, whether it be for human values like fisheries or natural values like biodiversity. The findings of assessments can then determine what ecosystems require conservation actions and what type of actions need to happen.

We reviewed five global assessment frameworks and found all shared similar gaps when it comes to assessing coastal wetland ecosystems.

First, animal-habitat linkages are poorly understood. So the assessment frameworks did not properly capture the role that protecting wetlands play in conserving threatened species and supporting productive fisheries.

Second, there are numerous data gaps we need to fill at the global scale. Recent strides have been made in applying big data to fill gaps in global measurements of mangrove ecosystems. We now need similar efforts to fill gaps in trends and status of seagrass and saltmarsh.

Our study has highlighted the role that global assessments play in conservation outcomes. The next aim for our team is to produce a global assessments for all coastal wetland ecosystems. By doing so we hope to give these important ecosystems more exposure to conservation managers.

Contact: Chris Brown

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