Coral reef habitats as surrogates of species, ecological functions, and ecosystem services

Peter J. Mumby, Kenneth Broad, Daniel R. Brumbaugh, Craig P. Dahlgren, Alastair R. Harborne, Alan Hastings, Katherine E. Holmes, Carrie V. Kappel, Fiorenza Micheli, James N. Sanchirico

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


Habitat maps are often the core spatially consistent data set on which marine reserve networks are designed, but their efficacy as surrogates for species richness and applicability to other conservation measures is poorly understood. Combining an analysis of field survey data, literature review, and expert assessment by a multidisciplinary working group, we examined the degree to which Caribbean coastal habitats provide useful planning information on 4 conservation measures: species richness, the ecological functions of fish species, ecosystem processes, and ecosystem services. Approximately one-quarter to one-third of benthic invertebrate species and fish species (disaggregated by life phase; hereafter fish species) occurred in a single habitat, and Montastraea-dominated forereefs consistently had the highest richness of all species, processes, and services. All 11 habitats were needed to represent all 277 fish species in the seascape, although reducing the conservation target to 95% of species approximately halved the number of habitats required to ensure representation. Species accumulation indices (SAIs) were used to compare the efficacy of surrogates and revealed that fish species were a more appropriate surrogate of benthic species (SAI = 71%) than benthic species were for fishes (SAI = 42%). Species of reef fishes were also distributed more widely across the seascape than invertebrates and therefore their use as a surrogate simultaneously included mangroves, sea grass, and coral reef habitats. Functional classes of fishes served as effective surrogates of fish and benthic species which, given their ease to survey, makes them a particularly useful measure for conservation planning. Ecosystem processes and services exhibited great redundancy among habitats and were ineffective as surrogates of species. Therefore, processes and services in this case were generally unsuitable for a complementarity-based approach to reserve design. In contrast, the representation of species or functional classes ensured inclusion of all processes and services in the reserve network.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)941-951
Number of pages11
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2008


  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Complementarity
  • Conservation planning
  • Coral reef
  • Ecosystem services
  • Habitat representation
  • Habitat value
  • Marine reserve
  • Species richness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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