Widespread replacement of algal forests with less-complex turf algae threaten the diversity and functioning of coastal rocky ecosystems and have prompted conservation and management efforts worldwide. Yet these initiatives target the species forming the marine forest rather than preservation of the ecosystem services these communities provide. The project ECOCYST will conduct a comparative valuation of Mediterranean rocky shore fringe communities associated with different dominant macroalgal forms that potentially represent alternative stable states: from forests of the canopy-forming genus Cystoseira to turf-forming species, considered a degraded state. The co-occurrence of these alternative fringe habitats in similar physical conditions presents a unique opportunity to evaluate the loss of function associated with algal forest decline. I will assess value by measures of diversity and ecosystem function that are linked to services of nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, and habitat provision. Measurements of abiotic conditions (e.g. temperature, hydrodynamics) within each fringe type will determine to what extent the canopy facilitates other species by ameliorating environmental extremes. Compound-specific stable isotope signatures in each fringe type and their associated consumers will reveal differences among algal states in food web support. Pulse-chase labelling experiments will estimate rates of carbon fixation, nitrogen assimilation, carbon storage potential and contribution to coastal nitrogen cycling. In order to maximize the impact of this work toward coastal management that focuses on conservation of ecosystem services, I will hold regional meetings and a final open workshop with networks of monitoring agencies and stakeholders (disseminated via MedPAN). Together with a systematic literature review, the synthesis of these outcomes will provide a best-practice guide toward development of management frameworks that enhance coastal ecosystem value.
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