Best Practicable Aggregation of Species: a step forward for species surrogacy in environmental assessment and monitoring

Authors

  • Stanislao Bevilacqua,

    Corresponding author
    1. Laboratory of Zoology and Marine Biology, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences and Technologies, University of Salento, Lecce, Italy
    • Correspondence

      Dr Stanislao Bevilacqua, Lab. Zoology and Marine Biology, Department of Biological and Environmental Science and Technologies (DiSTeBA), University of Salento, I-73100 Lecce, Tel/Fax: +39-0832-298803, E-mail: stanislao.bevilacqua@unisalento.it

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  • Joachim Claudet,

    1. National Center for Scientific Research, USR 3278 CNRS-EPHE CRIOBE, University of Perpignan, 66860, Perpignan Cedex, France
    2. Laboratoire d'Excellence ‘CORAIL’, USR 3278 CNRS-EPHE CRIOBE, University of Perpignan, 66860, Perpignan Cedex, France
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  • Antonio Terlizzi

    1. Laboratory of Zoology and Marine Biology, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences and Technologies, University of Salento, Lecce, Italy
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Abstract

The available taxonomic expertise and knowledge of species is still inadequate to cope with the urgent need for cost-effective methods to quantifying community response to natural and anthropogenic drivers of change. So far, the mainstream approach to overcome these impediments has focused on using higher taxa as surrogates for species. However, the use of such taxonomic surrogates often limits inferences about the causality of community patterns, which in turn is essential for effective environmental management strategies. Here, we propose an alternative approach to species surrogacy, the “Best Practicable Aggregation of Species” (BestAgg), in which surrogates exulate from fixed taxonomic schemes. The approach uses null models from random aggregations of species to minimizing the number of surrogates without causing significant losses of information on community patterns. Surrogate types are then selected in order to maximize ecological information. We applied the approach to real case studies on natural and human-driven gradients from marine benthic communities. Outcomes from BestAgg were also compared with those obtained using classic taxonomic surrogates. Results showed that BestAgg surrogates are effective in detecting community changes. In contrast to classic taxonomic surrogates, BestAgg surrogates allow retaining significantly higher information on species-level community patterns than what is expected to occur by chance and a potential time saving during sample processing up to 25% higher. Our findings showed that BestAgg surrogates from a pilot study could be used successfully in similar environmental investigations in the same area, or for subsequent long-term monitoring programs. BestAgg is virtually applicable to any environmental context, allowing exploiting multiple surrogacy schemes beyond stagnant perspectives strictly relying on taxonomic relatedness among species. This prerogative is crucial to extend the concept of species surrogacy to ecological traits of species, thus leading to ecologically meaningful surrogates that, while cost effective in reflecting community patterns, may also contribute to unveil underlying processes. A specific R code for BestAgg is provided.

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