Marine protected areas are generally designed and managed on the basis of the presence and extent of specific habitat types or the habitats of important species. However, it has become clear that in addition to including these 'structural' elements of marine systems, management strategies should incorporate a consideration of the functional aspects of the ecosystems. Biological traits analysis (BTA) has been successfully used to describe ecological functioning in marine benthic systems. BTA uses a number of biological characteristics expressed by the taxa present as indicators of key ecosystem functions. Two expert workshops were used to examine the potential for the application of BTA in the designation and management of MPAs. They concluded that BTA represented the best tool currently available for quantifying ecological functioning and agreed on 10-key ecological functions delivered by marine benthic communities. Twenty-four biological traits were also identified by the workshops as indices of these ten functions. In order to demonstrate the practical utility of the approach, BTA using these traits, was applied to a dataset covering benthos from within and around the proposed Eddystone Special Area of Conservation (SW England). The case study demonstrated that with the type of data normally available from conservation assessment type surveys, and a knowledge of the relevant biological traits, it is possible to use a consideration of ecological functioning to set boundaries for the MPA and to inform the site management objectives. The use of structure and function information to inform the designation process and subsequent management of marine protected areas is discussed.
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