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Protecting the Commons: the use of Subtidal Ecosystem Engineers in Marine Management



  1. Biodiversity conservation often focuses on threatened or rare species. While this structural asset of biodiversity is indeed important, the functional diversity aspect has to be considered as an even more important criterion for marine management and conservation. This paper explores the use of functionally important ecosystem engineers in North Sea management approaches.
  2. An overview of several North Sea ecosystem engineering species shows that ecosystem engineers such as bulldozing echinoderms and burrowing shrimps as well as bio-irrigating polychaetes are bound to receive more attention in the management of marine areas than they do now, given their important structuring aspect in associated fauna and implications for seafloor ecosystem functioning.
  3. The use of ecosystem engineers could contribute considerably to the concept of Ecosystem-Based Management in the marine realm. This is clearly illustrated in the present case study of the bio-irrigating polychaete Lanice conchilega. Since this species manifests both autogenic and allogenic ecosystem engineering properties, the management of human activities that affect common species such as L. conchilega reefs can enhance protection of the entire local ecosystem. In the North Sea, some commonly occurring ecosystem engineers and their engineered habitat can be protected under the European Habitats Directive and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.