An ecological quality status assessment procedure for soft-sediment benthic habitats: Weighing alternative approaches

Gert Van Hoey, David Cabana Permuy, Sofie Vandendriessche, Magda Vincx, Kris Hostens

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    An assessment procedure for determining the ecological quality status of soft-sediment benthic habitats requires the following aspects: (1) habitat assignation of the samples (habitat approach), (2) reference or target conditions for the benthic parameters (reference approach), and (3) the selection of indicator tools to assess the relative quality status (indicator approach). For all these aspects, different approaches exist, and the indicator selection and reference approaches are largely documented. The aspect of the habitat approach is sometimes neglected, but is essential in determining the reference conditions per habitat type. Benthic habitats differ in structure and function, and as such will show wide variations in statistics or measures between habitats. A major problem, mainly in coastal soft-bottom systems, is to track the deviation lines within data of the different benthic habitat types. This study shows that both a classical community analysis and the use of habitat suitability maps seemto be appropriate tools, but further fine-tuning is necessary. For the second assessment step, an objective assessment of reference conditions is a challenge in areas lacking pristine or minimally disturbed sites, and areas of which historic data are not available. This can be remedied by using a dataset of the area with a good spatial and temporal coverage of the benthic data, thereby avoiding data originating from highly impacted areas. For the third aspect in the assessment procedure, we recommend the use of different indicators with different properties (parameters, algorithms) since it indicates their weaknesses and strengths in the local region.
    In general, this study showed us that it is valuable to test different existing approaches for EcoQ assessment in a local area, revealing strengths, weaknesses and shortcomings within the assessment regarding data, habitat identification, monitoring strategy, reference settings and indicator use. All these aspects need to be taken into account within an ecological quality status assessment of an area in order to improve its confidence.
    TaalEngels
    TijdschriftEcological Indicators
    Volume25
    Pagina's (van-tot)266-278
    Aantal pagina's13
    StatusGepubliceerd - feb-2013

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