• Cost-effective sampling;
  • diversity monitoring;
  • spatial scales;
  • species richness;
  • subtidal reefs;
  • taxonomic resolution


Aim  To examine the influence of spatial scale on the usefulness of commonly employed biodiversity surrogates in subtidal macroalgae assemblages.

Location  South-west Australia.

Methods  The relationship between biodiversity surrogates and univariate and multivariate species-level patterns was tested at multiple spatial scales, ranging from metres (between quadrats) to hundreds of kilometres (between regions), using samples collected from almost 2000 km of temperate coastline that represented almost 300 species. Biodiversity surrogates included commonly used cost-effective alternatives to species-level sampling, such as those derived from functional groups and from taxonomic aggregation.

Results  Overall, surrogates derived from taxonomic aggregation to genus or family level correlated strongly with species-level patterns, although the family-level surrogate was a less effective predictor of species richness at large spatial scales. Surrogates derived from aggregation to coarser taxonomic levels and functional groups performed poorly, while the effectiveness of a surrogate measure derived from canopy-forming species improved with increasing spatial scale.

Main conclusions  A critical, but rarely examined, assumption of biodiversity surrogates is that the relationship between surrogate and species-level patterns is consistent in both space and time, and across a range of spatial and temporal scales. As the performance of all surrogates was, to some degree, scale-dependent, this work empirically demonstrated the need to consider the spatial extent and design of any biodiversity monitoring programme when choosing cost-effective alternatives to species-level data collection.