COVID-19 recovery can benefit biodiversity

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a global crisis. Severe interruptions to international trade and travel are crippling economies and forcing reevaluation of economic, health, and environmental trajectories. Given that COVID-19 has triggered widespread changes in human behavior and reductions in pollution, it presents opportunities for further positive change. Lockdowns have spurred households to rethink consumer needs, making now an opportune time to promote sustainable consumer choices that will become more engrained with prolonged exposure. How we emerge from the state of lockdowns will drive a new world economy with lasting effects on global biodiversity and supply chains. The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to trigger enormous effects on biodiversity and conservation outcomes. As we progress into a post–COVID-19 world, recovery strategies can be optimized to benefit biodiversity conservation and protect human health.


Pearson RM, Sievers M, McClure EC, Turschwell MP and Connolly RM (2020). COVID-19 recovery can benefit biodiversity. Science, 368, 838-839.

Multi-scale estimation of the effects of pressures and drivers on mangrove forest loss globally


•  Increasingly fragmented mangrove forests were associated with higher rates of forest loss

•  National regulatory quality mediated how pressures and management influence mangrove loss

•  In nations with low regulatory quality, protected areas provide greatest benefits for mangrove protection.

•  Considering national variation in the effect of pressures and management actions will benefit mangrove conservation



Turschwell MP, Tulloch VJ, Sievers M, Pearson RM, Andradi-Brown DA, Ahmadia GN, Connolly RM, Bryan-Brown D, Lopez-Marcano S, Adame MF and Brown CJ (2020). Multi-scale estimation of the effects of pressures and drivers on mangrove forest loss globally. Biological Conservation, 247, 108637.

Paper: Harnessing big data to support the conservation and rehabilitation of mangrove forests globally

Mangrove forests are found on sheltered coastlines in tropical, subtropical, and some warm temperate regions. These forests support unique biodiversity and provide a range of benefits to coastal communities, but as a result of large-scale conversion for aquaculture, agriculture, and urbanization, mangroves are considered increasingly threatened ecosystems. Scientific advances have led to accurate and comprehensive global datasets on mangrove extent, structure, and condition, and these can support evaluation of ecosystem services and stimulate greater conservation and rehabilitation efforts. To increase the utility and uptake of these products, in this Perspective we provide an overview of these recent and forthcoming global datasets and explore the challenges of translating these new analyses into policy action and on-the-ground conservation. We describe a new platform for visualizing and disseminating these datasets to the global science community, non-governmental organizations, government officials, and rehabilitation practitioners and highlight future directions and collaborations to increase the uptake and impact of large-scale mangrove research.


Worthington TA, Andradi-Brown DA, Bhargava R, Buelow C, Bunting P, Duncan C, Fatoyinbo L, Friess DA, Goldberg L, Hilarides L, Lagomasino D, Landis E, Longley-Wood K, Lovelock CE, Murray NJ, Narayan S, Rosenqvist A, Sievers M, Simard M, Thomas N, van Eijk P, Zganjar C, and Spalding M (2020). Harnessing big data to support the conservation and rehabilitation of mangrove forests globally. One Earth, 2, 429-443

Paper: Integrating outcomes of IUCN red list of ecosystems assessments for connected coastal wetlands

•  We apply the Red List of Ecosystems framework to connected coastal wetlands.

•  Moreton Bay mangroves and seagrass were Least Concern; saltmarsh was Endangered.

•  Assessments of individual ecosystems can misrepresent risk of collapse.

•  Collapse in any one ecosystem can have seascape-wide consequences.

•  Integrating outcomes for connected ecosystems is thus important.


Graphical abstract with building

Sievers M, Pearson RM, Turschwell MP, Bishop MJ, Bland L, Brown CJ, Tulloch VJD, Haig JA, Olds AD, Maxwell PS, and Connolly RM. (2020). Integrating outcomes of IUCN red list of ecosystems assessments for connected coastal wetlands. Ecological Indicators, 116, 108637.

Paper: Automating the analysis of fish abundance using object detection: optimising animal ecology with deep learning


Aquatic ecologists routinely count animals to provide critical information for conservation and management. Increased accessibility to underwater recording equipment such as action cameras and unmanned underwater devices has allowed footage to be captured efficiently and safely, without the logistical difficulties manual data collection often presents. It has, however, led to immense volumes of data being collected that require manual processing and thus significant time, labor, and money. The use of deep learning to automate image processing has substantial benefits but has rarely been adopted within the field of aquatic ecology. To test its efficacy and utility, we compared the accuracy and speed of deep learning techniques against human counterparts for quantifying fish abundance in underwater images and video footage. We collected footage of fish assemblages in seagrass meadows in Queensland, Australia. We produced three models using an object detection framework to detect the target species, an ecologically important fish, luderick (Girella tricuspidata). Our models were trained on three randomized 80:20 ratios of training:validation datasets from a total of 6,080 annotations. The computer accurately determined abundance from videos with high performance using unseen footage from the same estuary as the training data (F1 = 92.4%, mAP50 = 92.5%) and from novel footage collected from a different estuary (F1 = 92.3%, mAP50 = 93.4%). The computer’s performance in determining abundance was 7.1% better than human marine experts and 13.4% better than citizen scientists in single image test datasets, and 1.5 and 7.8% higher in video datasets, respectively. We show that deep learning can be a more accurate tool than humans at determining abundance and that results are consistent and transferable across survey locations. Deep learning methods provide a faster, cheaper, and more accurate alternative to manual data analysis methods currently used to monitor and assess animal abundance and have much to offer the field of aquatic ecology.

Ditria EM, Lopez-Marcano S, Sievers M, Jinks EL, Brown CJ, and Connolly RM (2019). Automating the analysis of fish abundance using object detection: optimising animal ecology with deep learning. Frontiers in Marine Science.

Paper: Impacts of management practices on blue carbon stocks and greenhouse gas fluxes in coastal ecosystems


Global recognition of climate change and its predicted consequences has created
the need for practical management strategies for increasing the ability of natural
ecosystems to capture and store atmospheric carbon. Mangrove forests, saltmarshes
and seagrass meadows, referred to as blue carbon ecosystems (BCEs), are hotspots
of atmospheric CO2 storage due to their capacity to sequester carbon at a far higher
rate than terrestrial forests. Despite increased effort to understand the mechanisms
underpinning blue carbon fluxes, there has been little synthesis of how management
activities influence carbon stocks and greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes in BCEs. Here,
we present a global meta-analysis of 111 studies that measured how carbon stocks
and GHG fluxes in BCEs respond to various coastal management strategies. Research
effort has focused mainly on restoration approaches, which resulted in significant
increases in blue carbon after 4 years compared to degraded sites, and the potential
to reach parity with natural sites after 7–17 years. Lesser studied management
alternatives, such as sediment manipulation and altered hydrology, showed only increases in biomass and weaker responses for soil carbon stocks and sequestration.
The response of GHG emissions to management was complex, with managed sites
emitting less than natural reference sites but emitting more compared to degraded
sites. Individual GHGs also differed in their responses to management. To date, blue
carbon management studies are underrepresented in the southern hemisphere and
are usually limited in duration (61% of studies ❤ years duration). Our meta-analysis
describes the current state of blue carbon management from the available data and
highlights recommendations for prioritizing conservation management, extending
monitoring time frames of BCE carbon stocks, improving our understanding of GHG
fluxes in open coastal systems and redistributing management and research effort
into understudied, high-risk areas.

O’Connor JJ, Fest BJ, Sievers M, and Swearer SE. (2020). Impacts of management practices on blue carbon stocks and greenhouse gas fluxes in coastal ecosystems – A meta-analysis. Global Change Biology, 26, 1354-1366.

Paper: Biofouling in marine aquaculture: a review of recent research and developments

Biofouling in marine aquaculture is one of the main barriers to efficient and sustainable production. Owing to the growth of aquaculture globally, it is pertinent to update previous reviews to inform management and guide future research. Here, the authors highlight recent research and developments on the impacts, prevention and control of biofouling in shellfish, finfish and seaweed aquaculture, and the significant gaps that still exist in aquaculturalists’ capacity to manage it. Antifouling methods are being explored and developed; these are centred on harnessing naturally occurring antifouling properties, culturing fouling-resistant genotypes, and improving farming strategies by adopting more sensitive and informative monitoring and modelling capabilities together with novel cleaning equipment. While no simple, quick-fix solutions to biofouling management in existing aquaculture industry situations have been developed, the expectation is that effective methods are likely to evolve as aquaculture develops into emerging culture scenarios, which will undoubtedly influence the path for future solutions.

Bannister J, Sievers M, Bush F, and Bloecher N. (2019). Biofouling in marine aquaculture: a review of recent research and developments. Biofouling, 35, 631-648.

Paper: Contaminant-induced behavioural changes in amphibians: A meta-analysis

Graphical abstract

• Chemical contamination is driving amphibian declines, often at sub-lethal concentrations.
• We used meta-analysis to quantify responses to a suite of contaminants.
• Contaminants caused abnormal swimming and affected escape responses.
• Behaviours were typically altered in meaningful ways.
• Understanding behavioural alterations help predict ecological implications.

Sievers M, Hale R, Parris KM, Melvin SD, Lanctot CM, and Swearer SE. (2019). Contaminant-induced behavioural changes in amphibians: A meta-analysis. Science of the Total Environment, 693, 133570

Paper: The Role of Vegetated Coastal Wetlands for Marine Megafauna Conservation

Habitat loss is accelerating a global extinction crisis. Conservation requires understanding links between species and habitats. Emerging research is revealing important associations between vegetated coastal wetlands and marine megafauna, such as cetaceans, sea turtles, and sharks. But these links have not been reviewed and the importance of these globally declining habitats is undervalued. Here, we identify associations for 102 marine megafauna species that utilize these habitats, increasing the number of species with associations based on current International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) species assessments by 59% to 174, accounting for over 13% of all marine megafauna. We conclude that coastal wetlands require greater protection to support marine megafauna, and present a simple, effective framework to improve the inclusion of habitat associations within species assessments.file-20190520-69195-r18lbn

Sievers M, Brown CL, Tulloch VJD, Pearson RM, Haig JA, Turschwell MP, and Connolly RM (2019). The role of vegetated coastal wetlands for marine megafauna conservation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution.