Brown, Christopher J.; Hamilton, Richard. 2018. Estimating the footprint of pollution on coral reefs with models of species turnover. Conservation Biology. (Abstract)
Ecological communities typically change along gradients of human impact, though it is difficult to estimate the footprint of impacts for diffuse threats like pollution. Here we develop a joint model of benthic habitats on lagoonal coral reefs and use it to infer change in benthic composition along a gradient of distance from logging operations. The model estimates both changes in abundances of benthic groups and their compositional turn-over, a type of beta-diversity. We detect compositional turnover across the gradient and use the model to predict the footprint of turbidity impacts from logging. We then apply the model to predict impacts of recent logging activities, finding recent impacts to be small, because recent logging has occurred far from lagoonal reefs. Our model can be used more generally to estimate the footprint of human impacts on ecosystems and evaluate the benefits of conservation actions for ecosystems.