Marine protected areas are being established around the world at a rapid rate. Some offer protection to pristine natural communities while others attempt to halt further deterioration of sensitive habitats or serve as fishery management tools for long term sustainability of coastal fisheries. The Mediterranean sea supports the biggest population and the highest human pressure of all the EU seas. Because most of the production occurs in the narrow limits of the continental shelf and the human impacts take place there, marine reserves are one of the few available tools to manage this area for sustainable use and for protection of unique ecosystems. At present there are 17 operational marine reserves in the EU Mediterranean littoral where researchers from Spain, France, Italy and Greece have been studying the effects of protection in the ecosystem for more than one decade. Most of the research carried out in Mediterranean reserves has focused on populations of exploited species. However, reserve status can lead to an intricate array of changes to community structure at all trophic levels, starting with direct effects on the populations of exploited species and impacting other populations through ecological interactions between them. These changes may also affect the structure of the habitat in which species live conditioning further their behaviour and distribution.
The work carried out so far by the various Mediterranean teams involved in assessing the effects of protection in littoral communities has lacked integration and coordination. In order to move forward in this line of work, it is proposed to first, collate and analyze what has been done and achieved so far by each team individually, and second, to consider appropriate ways to increase the complexity and realism of future studies of the ecological effects of protection.
Because assessment of the RE requires carefully designed sampling programmes, most studies rarely fulfil the requirements of rigorous statistical testing (due to lack of true controls, point-zero data or to problems of pseudoreplication, most commonly). Finding solutions to these problems, studying methodologies used elsewhere and agreeing on common working protocols is considered a third important axis of fruitful cooperation between these teams.
The overall aim of the concerted action ECOMARE is to unite and coordinate the efforts of a broad group of research teams involved in assessing the effects of protection in Mediterranean littoral ecosystems.
The specific objectives proposed in this action are:
1. To establish the state of knowledge of the responses of marine communities to protective measures in Mediterranean littoral ecosystems.
2. To identify the main research needs and steps forward to progress from the assessment of effects on exploited populations to the assessment of the effects of protection at the ecosystem level.
3. To standardize the working methodologies and data analysis and management procedures for research in the areas identified in 2 so that in the future investigations can to be carried out in a coordinated and comparable manner.
Funding SchemeCON - Coordination of research actions
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