Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 185, Issue 4, pp 3477–3492 | Cite as

Limitations of habitats as biodiversity surrogates for conservation planning in estuaries

  • Mohammad Reza Shokri
  • William Gladstone


Increasing pressures on global biodiversity and lack of data on the number and abundance of species have motivated conservation planners and researchers to use more readily available information as proxies or surrogates for biodiversity. “Habitat” is one of the most frequently used surrogates but its assumed value in marine conservation planning is not often tested. The present study developed and tested three alternative habitat classification schemes of increasing complexity for a large estuary in south-east Australia and tested their effectiveness in predicting spatial variation in macroinvertebrate biodiversity and selecting estuarine protected areas to represent species. The three habitat classification schemes were: (1) broad-scale habitats (e.g., mangroves and seagrass), (2) subdivision of each broad-scale habitat by a suite of environmental variables that varied significantly throughout the estuary, and (3) subdivision of each broad-scale habitat by the subset of environmental variables that best explained spatial variation in macroinvertebrate biodiversity. Macroinvertebrate assemblages differed significantly among the habitats in each classification scheme. For each classification scheme, habitat richness was significantly correlated with species richness, total density of macroinvertebrates, assemblage dissimilarity, and summed irreplaceability. However, in a reserve selection process designed to represent examples of each habitat, no habitat classification scheme represented species significantly better than a random selection of sites. Habitat classification schemes may represent variation in estuarine biodiversity; however, the results of this study suggest they are inefficient in designing representative networks of estuarine protected areas.


Estuary Reserve selection Irreplaceability Complementarity Species richness Macroinvertebrates Environmental diversity 



This study was supported by funding from the University of Newcastle and Gosford City Council. Thanks to Dr. P. Freewater at Gosford City Council. Thanks to K. O’Neill and G. Courtenay for their assistance in the field sampling and laboratory works. This project involved a large amount of species identification and this would not have been possible without the generous advice, teaching, and encouragement of Dr. P. Hutchings (Australian Museum). A large number of the species were checked for identification by Dr. Hutchings. The additional assistance at the Australian Museum provided by R. Springthorpe, I. Loch, W. Ponder, and A. Murray, was greatly appreciated. Thanks to two anonymous referees for critical review of an earlier version of this manuscript. The senior author was supported by an IPRS scholarship from the University of Newcastle. Macroinvertebrates were collected in compliance with permits issued by NSW Fisheries.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environmental and Life SciencesUniversity of Newcastle (Central Coast Campus)OurimbahAustralia
  2. 2.Faculty of Biological SciencesShahid Beheshti University, G.C.TehranIslamic Republic of Iran
  3. 3.School of the EnvironmentUniversity of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia

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