Mapping the Extent of Mangrove Ecosystem Degradation by Integrating an Ecological Conceptual Model with Satellite Data
Anthropogenic and natural disturbances can cause degradation of ecosystems, reducing their capacity to sustain biodiversity and provide ecosystem services. Understanding the extent of ecosystem degradation is critical for estimating risks to ecosystems, yet there are few existing methods to map degradation at the ecosystem scale and none using freely available satellite data for mangrove ecosystems. In this study, we developed a quantitative classification model of mangrove ecosystem degradation using freely available earth observation data. Crucially, a conceptual model of mangrove ecosystem degradation was established to identify suitable remote sensing variables that support the quantitative classification model, bridging the gap between satellite-derived variables and ecosystem degradation with explicit ecological links. We applied our degradation model to two case-studies, the mangroves of Rakhine State, Myanmar, which are severely threatened by anthropogenic disturbances, and Shark River within the Everglades National Park, USA, which is periodically disturbed by severe tropical storms. Our model suggested that 40% (597 km2) of the extent of mangroves in Rakhine showed evidence of degradation. In the Everglades, the model suggested that the extent of degraded mangrove forest increased from 5.1% to 97.4% following the Category 4 Hurricane Irma in 2017. Quantitative accuracy assessments indicated the model achieved overall accuracies of 77.6% and 79.1% for the Rakhine and the Everglades, respectively. We highlight that using an ecological conceptual model as the basis for building quantitative classification models to estimate the extent of ecosystem degradation ensures the ecological relevance of the classification models. Our developed method enables researchers to move beyond only mapping ecosystem distribution to condition and degradation as well. These results can help support ecosystem risk assessments, natural capital accounting, and restoration planning and provide quantitative estimates of ecosystem degradation for new global biodiversity targets.