Scientific work simulated the loss of habitat-forming species in the south-central area of the country, to calculate the impact this would have on marine communities and how they could improve conservation policies.
Daniela Jofré, IDEAL Center. Currently, there is a consensus in the international scientific community about the loss of biodiversity in the oceans, so many investigations analyze not only the factors that generate this decrease in marine ecosystems, but also the parameters by which protection zones must be established for those areas.
It was for this reason that a team of researchers led by Dr. Nelson Valdivia, from the Center for Dynamic Research of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) and director of the Doctoral Program in Marine Biology at the Austral University of Chile (UACh), analyzed the parameters to determine the stability of a marine community.
The experiment was carried out in two large marine intertidal zones, distributed in the regions of Coquimbo and Los Ríos, covering a total of one thousand kilometers. To analyze the stability of these marine ecosystems, the researchers carried out a disturbance simulation, consisting of the extinction of the dominant species in those areas.
The species selected for this simulation were the red alga Mazzaella laminarioides (known as spoon luga,) the maico mussel (Perumytilus purpuratus) and picorocos such as Jehlius cirratus and Notochthamalus scabrosus, organisms that are abundant on the coasts of the Pacific Ocean.
The work lasted three years, with periodic measurements every three months, where different factors related to the stability of these areas were analyzed after the loss of their key species, such as resistance, resilience, recovery and temporal variation. “With this research we wanted to find out if these aspects were related to each other, since that would allow, in terms of conservation, to better measure how the marine community recovers,” says Dr. Valdivia.
On one side, the study determined that it is necessary to measure several stability parameters when analyzing the recovery of an ecosystem. “We must have an idea of how quickly a disturbed community is going to recover, what level of recovery will it have and how variable this progress is going to be. These factors must be measured separately and not just one or two as is normally done,” explains Dr. Valdivia.
Another of the conclusions of this work is related to the spatial dimension of these areas. The study found that the larger the recovery area, the better the community affected reached levels of stability, although in a longer time. Meanwhile, the smaller territories changed in species composition faster after the impact, but did not necessarily revert to their undisturbed state.
“To better preserve these ecosystems, the ideal would be to establish protection zones that cover larger areas, instead of having many dispersed territories of this nature. This would allow greater spatial variation in species composition (known as beta diversity,) and would ensure greater stability,” concludes the researcher.
The results of this study were published in the scientific journals Frontiers in Marine Science and Oikos.