Francesco Paolo Mancuso, Gianluca Sarà, Anna Maria Mannino

Conserving Marine Forests: Assessing the Effectiveness of a Marine Protected Area for Cystoseira sensu lato Populations in the Central Mediterranean Sea

  • Plant Science
  • Ecology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are vital for biodiversity conservation, yet their effectiveness in preserving foundation seaweeds remains understudied. This study investigates the diversity and distribution of Cystoseira sensu lato (including Cystoseira, Ericaria, and Gongolaria, hereafter referred to as Cystoseira s.l.) populations in an MPA located in the central Mediterranean Sea, comparing them with those in two unprotected sites. We hypothesized MPA Cystoseira s.l. populations would display higher diversity and structure compared to outside unprotected sites. Results revealed a total of 19 Cystoseira s.l. species at depths of 0–20 m, with the MPA exhibiting a higher diversity than unprotected sites. Thus, MPAs can play a crucial role in fostering the diversity of Cystoseira s.l. populations. However, no significant differences were observed among the MPA’s protection zones, raising questions about the zoning effectiveness. Additionally, our survey uncovered a substantial presence of non-indigenous seaweeds within the MPA. In conclusions, while MPAs improved Cystoseira s.l. diversity compared to unprotected sites, the varying efficacy of protection within MPA zones suggested a necessity for site-specific conservation strategies. The presence of non-indigenous seaweeds emphasizes ongoing challenges. This study provides a baseline for understanding Cystoseira s.l. population dynamics, crucial for future monitoring and conservation efforts in the face of global change.

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