University of Tasmania
150810 - Vulnerable but still poorly known marine ecosystems.pdf (1.14 MB)

Vulnerable, but still poorly known, marine ecosystems: how to make distribution models more relevant and impactful for conservation and management of VMEs?

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 09:05 authored by Charley GrosCharley Gros, Jan JansenJan Jansen, Dunstan, PK, Welsford, DC, Nicole HillNicole Hill
Human activity puts our oceans under multiple stresses, whose impacts are already significantly affecting biodiversity and physicochemical properties. Consequently, there is an increased international focus on the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, including the protection of fragile benthic biodiversity hotspots in the deep sea, identified as vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs). International VME risk assessment and conservation efforts are hampered because we largely do not know where VMEs are located. VME distribution modelling has increasingly been recommended to extend our knowledge beyond sparse observations. Nevertheless, the adoption of VME distribution models in spatial management planning and conservation remains limited. This work critically reviews VME distribution modelling studies, and recommends promising avenues to make VME models more relevant and impactful for policy and management decision making. First, there is an important interplay between the type of VME data used to build models and how the generated maps can be used in making management decisions, which is often ignored by model-builders. Overall, there is a need for more precise VME data for production of reliable models. We provide specific guidelines for seven common applications of VME distribution modelling to improve the matching between the modelling and the user need. Second, the current criteria to identify VME often rely on subjective thresholds, which limits the transparency, transferability and effective applicability of distribution models in protection measures. We encourage scientists towards founding their models on: (i) specific and quantitative definitions of what constitute a VME, (ii) site conservation value assessment in relation to VME multitaxon spatial predictions, and (iii) explicitly mapping vulnerability. Along with the recent increase in both deep-sea biological and environmental data quality and quantity, these modelling recommendations can lead towards more cohesive summaries of VME’s spatial distributions and their relative vulnerability, which should facilitate a more effective protection of these ecosystems, as has been mandated by numerous international agreements.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Frontiers in Marine Science



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Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Frontiers Research Foundation

Place of publication


Rights statement

© 2022. The Authors. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License ( The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Biodiversity in Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments; Protection and conservation of Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments; Assessment and management of benthic marine ecosystems