Marine habitat classification for ecosystem-based management: A proposed hierarchical framework

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Creating a habitat classification and mapping system for marine and coastal ecosystems is a daunting challenge due to the complex array of habitats that shift on various spatial and temporal scales. To meet this challenge, several countries have, or are developing, national classification systems and mapping protocols for marine habitats. To be effectively applied by scientists and managers it is essential that classification systems be comprehensive and incorporate pertinent physical, geological, biological, and anthropogenic habitat characteristics. Current systems tend to provide over-simplified conceptual structures that do not capture biological habitat complexity, marginalize anthropogenic features, and remain largely untested at finer scales. We propose a multi-scale hierarchical framework with a particular focus on finer scale habitat classification levels and conceptual schematics to guide habitat studies and management decisions. A case study using published data is included to compare the proposed framework with existing schemes. The example demonstrates how the proposed framework's inclusion of user-defined variables, a combined top-down and bottom-up approach, and multi-scale hierarchical organization can facilitate examination of marine habitats and inform management decisions. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.

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Environmental Management