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Articles

A Conceptual Framework to Develop Long-Term Ecological Research and Management Objectives in the Wider Caribbean Region

VICTOR H. RIVERA-MONROY, ROBERT R. TWILLEY, DAVID BONE, DANIEL L. CHILDERS, CARLOS CORONADO- MOLINA, ILKA C. FELLER, JORGE HERRERA-SILVEIRA, RUDOLF JAFFE, ERNESTO MANCERA, ELISKA REJMANKOVA, JOSEPH E. SALISBURY, AND ERNESTO WEIL

The Caribbean Sea and its watersheds show signs of environmental degradation. These fragile coastal ecosystems are susceptible to environmental impacts, in part because of their oligotrophic conditions and their critical support of economic development. Tourism is one of the major sources of income in the Caribbean, making the region one of the most ecotourism dependent in the world. Yet there are few explicit, long-term, comprehen- sive studies describing the structure and function of Caribbean ecosystems. We propose a conceptual framework using the environmental signature hypothesis of tropical coastal settings to develop a series of research questions for the reef–sea-grass–wetland seascape. We applied this approach across 13 sites throughout the region, including ecosystems in a variety of coastal settings with different vulnerabilities to environmental impacts. This approach follows the strategy developed by the Long Term Ecological Research program of the National Science Foundation to establish eco- logical research questions best studied over decades and large spatial areas.

Keywords: Caribbean, eutrophication, LTER (long-term ecological research), coastal settings, human influence

R ecent reviews describing human impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems in the Caribbean em- phasize two major problems. First is the lack of information about processes controlling the productivity of diverse coastal ecosystems. Second is the potential long-term negative impact of human disturbances on the goods and services these ecosystems provide (Richards and Bohnsack 1990, Ogden 1997). The Caribbean Sea has been diagnosed as an eco- system showing “signs of environmental stress” (Richards

and Bohnsack 1990), representing a global trend in which human impacts on marine ecosystems are more the rule than the exception. A current debate in environmental re- source management concerns how best to understand the magnitude of ecosystem change associated with human impacts and to designate the global regions that are more susceptible to human activities (Vitousek et al. 1997). In the Caribbean Sea and its watersheds, degradation of water and land resources is related to major declines in biodiversity

Victor H. Rivera-Monroy (e-mail: riverav@louisiana.edu) is a senior research scientist, and Robert R. Twilley was director, at the Center for Ecology and Environmen- tal Technolog , University of Louisiana, Lafayette, LA 70504; Twilley is now director of the Wetland Biogeochemistry Institute, Louisiana State Universit , Baton Rouge, LA 70803. Rivera-Monroy and Twilley are also associated with the Department of Biology at the University of Louisiana. David Bone is a professor at the Universidad Simón Bolívar, Instituto de Tecnologia y Ciencias Marinas, Caracas 1080-A, Venezuela. Daniel L. Childers is an associate professor at the Department of Biological Sciences and the Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida International Universit , Miami, FL 33199. Carlos Coronado-Molina is a senior research scientist at the South Florida Water Management District, West Palm Beach, FL 33416. Ilka C. Feller is a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edge- water, MD 21037. Jorge Herrera-Silveira is a professor at the Centro de Investigaciónes y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional (CINVESTAV-IPN), Unidad Mérida, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico 97310. Rudolf Jaffe is a professor at the Department of Chemistry and director of the Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida International Universit , Miami, FL 33199. Ernesto Mancera is director of the Instituto de Investigaciones Tropicales, Universidad del Magdalena, Santa Marta, Colombia. Eliska Rejmankova is a professor at the Department of Environmental Science and Polic , University of California, Davis, CA 95616. Joseph E. Salisbury is a research scientist at the Ocean Processes Analysis Laborator , University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824. Ernesto Weil is a professor at the Marine Sciences Department, University of Puerto Rico, Lajas, Puerto Rico 00667. © 2004 American Institute of Biological Sciences.

September 2004 / Vol. 54 No. 9 BioScience 843

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