Biodiversity, ecology, and human land use on atolls

Sebastian Steibl1
1 University of Auckland, New Zealand

D 1.1 in BayCEER Early Career Research Recognition - Excellent Doctoral Research

13.10.2022, 09:45-10:05, H 36

Atolls form a mosaic of tiny island ecosystems stretching over vast areas of the tropical Indo-Pacific. Despite their general susceptibility to climate disruptions, various emerging success stories of atoll ecosystem restoration highlight the potential of these systems for conservation. However, atoll islands remain one of the least studied and understood terrestrial ecosystems, which greatly limits the implementation of management actions and conservation science. During my PhD, I explored fundamental aspects in atoll biodiversity and ecology, and investigated how the accelerating urbanization and tourism development on atolls alter ecosystem structure. I tested and confirmed the hypothesis that these two land uses have different impacts on atoll biodiversity, habitat and food web structure, and thus require separate management strategies in order to mitigate their environmental impacts. The focus was thereby put on the arthropod community, as it is taxonomically and functionally the most diverse species group on atolls. I showed that atoll arthropods organise in two distinct species clusters, both in terms of ecological and trophic niches, with little overlap and energy transfers occurring between them. As a result, species can experience different impacts under the two investigated land use regimes, as exemplified in a case study on terrestrial decapod crustaceans. Together, these results quantify for the first time the biodiversity loss and ecological deteriorations from two dominant land development types on atolls. Therefore, they help forming the basis for advocating for and implementing habitat protection on atolls. The findings on ecological organization and structuring are further used and integrated in ongoing atoll restoration programs to improve our understanding and the protection of this unique type of island ecosystem.

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