Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 20, Issue 14, pp 3591–3603 | Cite as

Evaluation of the FORAM index in a case of conservation

Benthic foraminifera as indicators of ecosystem resilience in protected and non-protected coral reefs of the Southern Caribbean
  • Johanna Velásquez
  • Juliana López-Angarita
  • Juan A. SánchezEmail author
Original Paper


Localized and global impacts are responsible for driving the current decline in coral reef ecosystems. The worldwide debate over the efficacy of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as a conservation measure for coral reefs highlights the importance of acquiring accurate indicators of reef resilience and recovery under stressful conditions. Marine benthic foraminifera, considered outstanding indicators for environmental changes, are unicellular eukaryotes that inhabit sandy sediments in coral reefs. There are three kinds of benthic foraminifera: symbiotic, opportunistic, and other small heterotrophic. Symbiosis with microalgae is not favorable under high nutrient conditions. This study compared the FORAM Index (FI) in different sites inside and outside MPAs. The index was also compared with coral and algae cover. High FI values are characteristic of healthy oligotrophic reefs whereas low values represent eutrophicated ecosystems. A community structure analysis was done in order to determine the compositional change of functional groups, and thus, to test spatially the index efficiency and performance. In general, MPA sites presented lower indexes compared to Non-MPA sites, probably due to the higher impact of tourism and agriculture in these areas. On the other hand, the index was not correlated with coral nor algae cover, even though positive and negative trends were found. Assemblage analyzes corroborated that the symbiotic foraminifers’ high susceptibility is the main source for the index variation, which was independent of the substrate type from which it was sampled. Our results show both the efficiency of this index and the importance of its application for evaluating conservation strategies.


Anthropogenic impact Coral reefs Eutrophication FORAM Index Marine Protected Area MPA Phase shift Symbiont-bearing foraminifera 


MPA (Marine Protected Area)

Protected area in the ocean that should reduce pressure from human activities to facilitate the ability of species to cope with natural disturbances

Non-MPA (Non-Marine Protected Area)

Area without any restrictions for activities such as fishing, tourism, among others

FI (FORAM (Foraminifera in Reef Assessment and Monitoring) Index)

Efficient measure that determines the effect of nutrient concentration on the recovery and resilience capacity of reefs (Hallock et al. 2003)

PNN-CRSB (Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo)

Marine protected area, located in the Colombian Caribbean in the department of Bolivar

PNNT (Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona)

Marine protected area, located in the Colombian Caribbean in the department of Magdalena

K–W (Kruskal–Wallis)

Nonparametric statistical analysis that compares the variance between different data sets

B (Bajo Burbujas)

Site in Isla Fuerte

P (Planchón)

Site in Isla Fuerte

FL (Fondo Loco)

Site in Isla Fuerte

BB (Bajo Bushnell)

Site in Isla Fuerte

CI (Canal del Inglés)

Site in Isla Fuerte

M (Morro)

Site in PNNT

PV (Punta Venado)

Site in PNNT

PBT (Punta Betín)

Site in PNNT

C (Bahía Chengue)

Site in PNNT

CM (Cangrejo Moró)

Site in PNNT

IG (Isla Gloria)

Site in PNN-CRSB

CR (Caño Ratón)

Site in PNN-CRSB

PB (Punta Brava)

Site in PNN-CRSB

BS (Boya Spawning)

Site in PNN-CRSB

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere



This study was funded by Facultad de Ciencias-Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad de los Andes, and NOAA coral-grants program (Grant number: NA07NOS4630021). We want to give a special acknowledgment to Professor P. Hallock form University of South Florida, for her collaboration in the morphological identification of the organisms in this study and to P.A. Venail for his assistance in the statistical analyzes. This research could not be done without the collaboration of the Unit in charge of Natural Parks in Colombia (Unidad Administrativa Especial del Sistema Nacional de Parques Naturales de Colombia, UAESPNN), and, in particular from PNNT staff (R. Franke, C. García, J. Velandia) and PNN-CRSB (M. Cabezas, E. Zarza, and Y. Mendoza). We gratefully acknowledge colleagues from the BIOMMAR (Laboratorio de Biología Molecular Marina) and GEMAR (Group of Studies in Environmental and Resource Economics) research groups (Universidad de los Andes) and U. Jorge Tadeo Lozano (E. Alvarado research group), for their help in data collection and analysis. In addition, we recognize participation and support from local communities in both regions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johanna Velásquez
    • 1
  • Juliana López-Angarita
    • 1
  • Juan A. Sánchez
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas-Facultad de Ciencias, Laboratorio de Biología Molecular Marina (BIOMMAR)Universidad de los AndesBogotáColombia

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