What is habitat mapping?

 
Habitat mapping is defined by the MESH Project to be:
 
Plotting the distribution and extent of habitats to create a map with complete coverage of the seabed showing distinct boundaries separating adjacent habitats.
 
Throughout the MESH Guide, the term 'seabed' refers to both intertidal and subtidal areas; the habitat mapping process applies equally to both areas.
 
Habitat mapping within this MESH Guide adopts a specific methodology: seabed habitat maps show the distribution of habitats by interpreting physical data layers, often derived from remote sensing, using biological information about habitats obtained from direct sampling and observation of the seabed. Only a small proportion of the seabed can be observed or sampled and the complete coverage of habitats is inferred from the association between the physical habitat data and the seabed samples so the final maps predict the distribution of seabed habitats. The physical habitat factors act as a proxy for the biological habitat data.
 
GMHM1 Summary figure
A summary of the habitat mapping process promoted by the MESH Project. It is important to remember that the final map predicts the distribution of habitats.
 
Full coverage maps of physical habitat factors (the proxy data) are obtained either directly from some form of remote sensing (e.g. bathymetry from acoustic surveys) or derived from mathematical models of the marine environment (e.g. wave energy from weather prediction models). The inferential process to link the sample data with the physical maps is loosely termed modelling. In some cases this may be a simple process of using expert judgement whilst, in other cases, the modelling might take the form of a multi-step process of transforming and combining many datasets to derive the final maps.
 
In summary the habitat mapping process involves surveying, collating information, analysing and modelling data to derive the habitat distribution and then designing the layout of habitat maps that are clear and fit for their intended purpose.
 
The present Chapter introduces the topic of marine habitat mapping by laying the foundations needed for the user to fully understand the basic concepts, uses and limitations of marine habitat mapping and sets the scene for subsequent Chapters. It covers:
 
  • Habitat mapping in MESH - outlines the process of mapping, including how this can be tackled over a range of scales and levels of detail. The relationship between what can be detected by survey techniques and habitat variability is discussed. The types of data needed to make maps, linking environmental variables to the physical and biological characteristics of the seabed, are outlined.
  • Why do we need habitat maps? - provides an overview of the main uses for habitat maps and some key policy drivers which rely on this information.
  • What are habitats? - describes the concept of a habitat and their variability in space and scale, together with an introduction to schemes for their classification.
  • What do you want to map? - explains some of the basic concepts of habitat mapping, concentrating on the need to clearly establish the level of habitat detail required, and the geographic area to map.  It also explain why some habitats cannot be mapped, or not displayed on maps of the chosen scale.
  • How do you map habitats? - describes some of the different approaches to habitat mapping and explains what type of data are required for different types of habitat.
  • What are the limitations of habitat mapping? - explains what can be displayed on a map, suggests what maps can and cannot do, and explains why some habitats cannot be mapped. It also introduces the concepts of accuracy and confidence, and how maps need to change over time to reflect improved data and temporal changes in the environment.
  • Data management - introduces the needs for sound data management, and the requirements for metadata throughout the mapping process.
  • How do you plan for habitat mapping? - describes the basic considerations required to effectively plan a habitat mapping project. It sets out the main steps in the planning cycle and provides links to the relevant sections in the MESH Guide that offer further more detailed information on each topic.
 
Links to other sections:

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