Echinoderms as bioindicators of coral reef health and resilience in the Indo-Pacific

Summary:

I will be researching the potential of the reef-dwelling echinoderm community to serve as a bioindicator of coral reef health and resilience across a range of human impacts.


Introduction:

Indonesia is the global center of marine biodiversity, but it also has a very high ratio of coastline to land area. This means that as Indonesia becomes increasingly developed, the surrounding marine ecosystem is highly impacted. However, the extent of human impact is largely unknown and difficult to quantify. Identifying accurate bioindicator species would allow us to easily and efficiently evaluate the state of coral reef ecosystems for managment, policy and conservation purposes. Echinoderms are large, slow-moving macroinvertebrates that encompass a variety of trophic levels and have been shown to be sensitive to pollution and other human impacts. Echinoderms tend to feed by class (i.e. starfish=predators, brittle stars=detritivores, urchins=grazers, crinoids=filter feeders). Since a healthy, functioning ecosystem generally has a balanced complement of trophic niches, the ratio of echinoderm biomass at each trophic level may allow us to assess the health and resilience of a reef.


Methods:

  • Time Frame:
    • The duration of my time in Indonesia will be November 18th, 2012 to (estimated) December 20th, 2013. My time as a Fulbright grantee will be divided as follows:
      • November 2012
        • Language Study with the Critical Language Enhancement Award
        • Scientific literature review of bioindicators, coral reef health indices, methods, etc.
      • December 2012
        • Language Study with the Critical Language Enhancement Award
        • Scientific literature review of bioindicators, coral reef health indices, methods, etc.
        • Test feasibility of methods
        • Begin writing introduction/methods of research paper
      • January-March 2013
        • Language Study with the Critical Language Enhancement Award
        • Scientific literature review of bioindicators, coral reef health indices, methods, etc.
        • Test feasibility of methods
        • Finish writing introduction/methods of research paper
      • March/April 2013
        • Solidify methods
        • Do preliminary data analysis to proof the project
        • Make connections in the community to promote education and interaction
        • Enlist interested volunteers to help with data collection and analysis
        • Begin data collection
      • April-July 2013
        • Data collection
      • July 2013
        • Data collection
        • Begin writing results/discussion/conclusion of research paper
      • September 2013
        • Finish data collection
        • Finish writing results/discussion/conclusion of research paper
      • November 2013
        • Finish all aspects of research project
      • December 2013
        • Finish all aspects of research project
        • Final progress report
        • Present finding to Fulbright Indonesia
        • Leave Indonesia and return to USA
  • Research Sites:
    • Determining the scale of this research project is very important. Spanning the Indonesian Archipelago would include a large biodiversity gradient and introduce many confounding factors. However, focusing only on the island of Bali limits the study to a very unique island that has little to no remnant “pristine” reefs left. Therefore, this study will look both at the human-impacted reef ecosystems around Bali/nearby islands as well as the relatively  “pristine” reef ecosystems of surrounding islands and national parks. Below are the proposed areas of study.
  • “Pristine”(least impacted) Reefs
    • Bali Barat National Park
      • Menjangan Island
    • Karimunjawa National Park
    • Wakatobi
    • Bunaken
    • Komodo National Park
  • Impacted Reefs (at varying impact levels)
    • Nusa Lombongan
    • Nusa Penida
    • Lombok
    • Bali
  • Surveys:
    • Photo quadrat transects (PQT) or random quadrat (25m2?) samples:
      • Width = width of camera angle at set distance (2 m from the reef?)
      • Length = 10-25 m
      • Record reef structure, shape, health, etc. using transect pictures
      • Record data for every echinoderm encountered within the transect including: size, biomass, species, substrate, prey (if applicable), general health (visible injuries or disease?), neighboring organisms, and more.
      • PQT’s need to be done during both day and night
      • Day/night surveys should be done in a very short time interval of each other (±3 days?)
  • Rubble survey:
    • Collect a corresponding 5 gallon bucket full of coral rubble for each PQT and record all echinoderms within rubble to get a perspective of the cryptic and obscure echinoderm diversity
    • Also needs to be done during the day and night
  • Coral health and resilience:
    • Will be estimated using metrics such as: percent live coral cover, percent algae cover, coral species richness, abundance and diversity, surrounding reef fish abundance and diversity (spot count), etc. (These metrics may be adjusted after additional literature review).
  • Human impact factors:
  • My study will take into account, water temperature, turbidity, nutrification, watershed land use, fishing intensity, current, and other additional factors that are yet to be determined.
  • Involvement
    • My research will be conducted in collaboration with the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center, Udayana University, USAID (potentially) and other interested organizations and people. The expected outcome of the research will aid policy efforts to protect Indonesian reefs and the ecosystem services that they provide to the people of Indonesia and the Coral Triangle.


Results:

I hope to establish a scale of healthy/resilient reefs as well as identifying trophic ratio warning signs that signify “at risk” reefs. This information will be shared with the local community and regional policy makers. I also hope to create a key to identifying Indonesian echinoderm species that will educate and involve the local community and interested tourists, etc. 

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