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Review
Peer-Review Record

Identifying Indicators to Evaluate Community-Managed Freshwater Protected Areas in the Lower Mekong Basin: A Review of Marine and Freshwater Examples

Water 2020, 12(12), 3530; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12123530
Reviewer 1: Anonymous
Reviewer 2: Anonymous
Reviewer 3: Anonymous
Reviewer 4: Anonymous
Water 2020, 12(12), 3530; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12123530
Received: 31 October 2020 / Revised: 10 December 2020 / Accepted: 11 December 2020 / Published: 16 December 2020

Round 1

Reviewer 1 Report

This manuscript provides a thorough and well-written review of indicators for evaluating freshwater protected areas under community management or co-management. The list of reviewed papers for freshwater reserves is by far the most comprehensive encountered in the literature, and this article provides an excellent synthesis of that literature, as well as the more abundant marine protected area literature on the topic. This article will provide a valuable resource for academics, conservation practitioners, and others thinking about or working to implement spatial protection to conserve freshwater biodiversity and support sustainable inland harvests.

Only minor considerations on the manuscript are included for consideration here, as there are no major considerations for this manuscript. First, the global review of the literature is narrowed first to the lower Mekong River basin, and then further to a single country, Lao PDR, which seems to limit the scope of this excellent review. The connection in this manuscript to a set of protocols and the handbook created in a prior effort in Laos is the likely reason for this. However, it seems reasonable to both highlight this specific effort in Laos (development and review of the handbook), while maintaining more broad connections to the lower Mekong region in general. Specifically, multiple paragraphs in the discussion provide a short application of the broader findings to only Lao PDR (e.g., lines 388, 586, 790), which may to some extent apply to other nations in the region. Alternatively, the specific mentions of the applicability could be expanded upon to provide more direct guidance for the Laos PDR perspective. In its current format these concluding sentences seemed to distract from what could be a larger message.

The importance of biomass (discussed in line 319 and following) is also important for reproductive potential, as fecundity in fish scales allometrically or hyperallometrically with body size. Thus, conserving even a few females long enough to attain larger sizes can have big boosts for population growth and spillover relative to more, small females without protection. This could be expanded upon to highlight this unique aspect of fish biology that has important implications for reserve benefits.

In Table 1, it is slightly confusing that under biological/ecological indicators 'presence/absence of target species' and 'target species abundance' are listed as a unique indicators in the literature review (column 1), but in the other two columns they are lumped into a single indicator. There may be a justification for this combination, but it wasn't clear in the text.

Overall, this manuscript will be an important contribution to the limited, but growing, literature guiding the implementation of freshwater protected areas in the Mekong region and beyond.

Author Response

Reviewer 1: “This manuscript provides a thorough and well-written review of indicators for evaluating freshwater protected areas under community management or co-management. The list of reviewed papers for freshwater reserves is by far the most comprehensive encountered in the literature, and this article provides an excellent synthesis of that literature, as well as the more abundant marine protected area literature on the topic. This article will provide a valuable resource for academics, conservation practitioners, and others thinking about or working to  implement spatial protection to conserve freshwater biodiversity and support sustainable inland harvests.”

    We thank the reviewer for this perspective and believe that we have kept this synthesis in our revision.

Reviewer 1: “Only minor considerations on the manuscript are included for consideration here, as there are no major considerations for this manuscript. First, the global review of the literature is narrowed first to the lower Mekong River basin, and then further to a single country, Lao PDR, which seems to limit the scope of this excellent review. The connection in this manuscript to a set of protocols and the handbook created in a prior effort in Laos is the likely reason for this. However, it seems reasonable to both highlight this specific effort in Laos (development and review of the handbook), while maintaining more broad connections to the lower Mekong region in general. Specifically, multiple paragraphs in the discussion provide a short application of the broader findings to only Lao PDR (e.g., lines 388, 586, 790), which may to some extent apply to other nations in the region. Alternatively, the specific mentions of the applicability could be expanded upon to provide more direct guidance for the Laos PDR perspective. In its current format these concluding sentences seemed to distract from what could be a larger message.”

Reviewer 1: As multiple reviewers have suggested that we broaden the perspective beyond Laos, we have shifted the focus of our review to the Lower Mekong Basin more generally, where community-managed FPAs are widely implemented with many commonalities. This is also in keeping with the theme of the Water Special Issue. We have also retained a description of the development of the Lao PDR guidebook in the introduction (lines 119-131) to provide context for this literature review and to highlight the guidebook as a unique resource for freshwater assessments. 

Reviewer 1: “The importance of biomass (discussed in line 319 and following) is also important for reproductive potential, as fecundity in fish scales allometrically or hyperallometrically with body size. Thus, conserving even a few females long enough to attain larger sizes can have big boosts for population growth and spillover relative to more, small females without protection. This could be expanded upon to highlight this unique aspect of fish biology that has important implications for reserve benefits.”

Although we have shortened our discussion of biomass in the paper, we agree the reviewer makes a valuable point and added the following line to address the above comment (line 283): “Biomass is also particularly relevant to the conservation of female fishes, whose fecundity can scale allometrically with body size; therefore, allowing female fish to grow inside APAs can provide subsequent benefits to population growth and spillover.”

Reviewer 1: “In Table 1, it is slightly confusing that under biological/ecological indicators 'presence/absence of target species' and 'target species abundance' are listed as a unique indicators in the literature review (column 1), but in the other two columns they are lumped into a single indicator. There may be a justification for this combination, but it wasn't clear in the text.”

    We have removed “Presence/absence” of target species from Table 1 to resolve this inconsistency. 

Reviewer 1: “Overall, this manuscript will be an important contribution to the limited, but growing, literature guiding the implementation of freshwater protected areas in the Mekong region and beyond.”

We thank the reviewer for this perspective.

Reviewer 2 Report

To the authors:

This paper is on an important topic – the identification and use of indicators for freshwater protected areas.  The debate about the effectiveness of FPAs has largely been theoretical, as FPAs are rare (outside SE Asia) compared to terrestrial and marine PAs, and few have had rigorous assessment methods applied to them.  The paper provides a comprehensive and detailed review of potential indicators, which could serve as a useful resource for PA managers and researchers.

My main concern about the paper is that it reads largely like a report, or like the guidebook on which it was presumably based. In order for the paper to be more appropriate to a peer-review journal, I would recommend that the authors assess whether it is possible to shorten the paper appreciably and focus more on interpreting their findings for a reader.  For instance, could the authors make recommendations for sets of indicators grouped depending on level of effort required, or by FPA objective, or by type of freshwater system?  Could they separate out those that work in marine systems but would be less appropriate in freshwater systems?  

Additionally, I would suggest that the authors consider making the paper more relevant to FPAs anywhere by removing the Lao PDR filter.  I recognize that this may necessitate a fair amount of rewriting, but I think that it would make for a more useful contribution to the peer-review literature, given that the guidebook for Lao FPAs already exists.

Given the extensive revisions that I am recommending I will refrain from providing detailed comments.  Overall I think there is an abundance of good information in the manuscript that can serve as the foundation of an improved paper that could be more of a significant contribution. 

Author Response

Reviewer 2: This paper is on an important topic – the identification and use of indicators for freshwater protected areas.  The debate about the effectiveness of FPAs has largely been theoretical, as FPAs are rare (outside SE Asia) compared to terrestrial and marine PAs, and few have had rigorous assessment methods applied to them.  The paper provides a comprehensive and detailed review of potential indicators, which could serve as a useful resource for PA managers and researchers.

    We thank the reviewer for this perspective. 

Reviewer 2: My main concern about the paper is that it reads largely like a report, or like the guidebook on which it was presumably based. In order for the paper to be more appropriate to a peer-review journal, I would recommend that the authors assess whether it is possible to shorten the paper appreciably and focus more on interpreting their findings for a reader.  For instance, could the authors make recommendations for sets of indicators grouped depending on level of effort required, or by FPA objective, or by type of freshwater system?  Could they separate out those that work in marine systems but would be less appropriate in freshwater systems?  

    We have attempted to shorten the manuscript in part by removing discussions of example methods for measuring each indicator, except for those that require special considerations for freshwater use. In an effort to provide more interpretation and synthesis, we have replaced the previous table with two new tables: one that explicitly links indicators with APA objectives (Table 1), and one that provides explicit considerations for measuring each indicator in a community management or freshwater context (Table 2), along with a difficulty rating for each indicator. We have also included relevant APA objectives and freshwater considerations under the description of each indicator. 

Reviewer 2:  Additionally, I would suggest that the authors consider making the paper more relevant to FPAs anywhere by removing the Lao PDR filter.  I recognize that this may necessitate a fair amount of rewriting, but I think that it would make for a more useful contribution to the peer-review literature, given that the guidebook for Lao FPAs already exists.

    In keeping with the theme of the Water Special Issue, we have shifted the focus of our review to the Lower Mekong Basin more generally, where community-managed FPAs are widely implemented with many commonalities. We have still retained a description of the development of the Lao PDR guidebook in the introduction (lines 118-130) to provide context for this literature review and to highlight the guidebook as a unique resource for freshwater assessments. 

Reviewer 3 Report

Dear Editor, dear authors
This review provides an interesting analysis of the evaluation of marine and freshwater protected areas and examines indicators used to measure aquatic protected area effectiveness, specifically in Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
I'm not satisfied particularly with how you present your data; how can you actually test if monitoring and evaluation of specific indicators is really necessary t to determine whether such protected areas are effectively meeting their objectives?
This specific point requires further explanation, especially in the discussion of results. You provide a detailed explanation of all indicators but they are not fully discussed in relation to the main objective of the work
In addition the article it's too long; it is necessary to reduce it.
The authors still need to dig a little deeper to extract the gist of the study. Thus, I propose to reject and resubmit this article.

Author Response

Reviewer 3: This review provides an interesting analysis of the evaluation of marine and freshwater protected areas and examines indicators used to measure aquatic protected area effectiveness, specifically in Lao People’s Democratic Republic. I'm not satisfied particularly with how you present your data; how can you actually test if monitoring and evaluation of specific indicators is really necessary t to determine whether such protected areas are effectively meeting their objectives? This specific point requires further explanation, especially in the discussion of results. You provide a detailed explanation of all indicators but they are not fully discussed in relation to the main objective of the work

We have also added Table 1 that links indicators to specific APA objectives to more clearly demonstrate which particularly indicators are relevant to measure given the specific objectives of an APA.  We have added these connections under the description of each indicator. 

With regards to evaluating whether monitoring specific indicators is necessary, our original manuscript included the following line (212) in the discussion of indicator selection about the usefulness of various indicators: “Indicator relevance to the scientific community can be determined based on its frequency of use in APA evaluations and publications [56], while indicator effectiveness can be determined based on how frequently it yields significant results across studies [47].” To that, we have added the following line (line 215) “These criteria of relevance and effectiveness can be used to broadly evaluate whether a given indicator is useful, but its effectiveness at measuring the success of a particular APA will depend on local factors.” To further elaborate on this point, we also added the following line this section (line 222): “Ultimately, indicators need to be tested in the field and the results reviewed in order to determine whether a given indicator is providing relevant information about APA performance that can guide management.”

We also added the following line to the conclusions to address this point (line 731): “FPA objectives can inform the selection of relevant indicators; however, the most useful suite of indicators for a given context may need to be determined through multiple rounds of monitoring and evaluation in order to gage whether an indicator is a true measure of FPA “success.”"

Reviewer 3: In addition the article it's too long; it is necessary to reduce it.

We have cut 1,500 words from the paper to reduce its length.

Reviewer 3: The authors still need to dig a little deeper to extract the gist of the study.

To further clarify the gist of the study, we have also added Table 2 in order to provide more discussion of the use of particular indicators in a freshwater or community management context. 

Reviewer 4 Report

I found the manuscript very clear, and it has the potential for scientific contributions.  However, I found discussion and conclusions as too broad and somewhat scattered. Someone less familiar with these issues may find it hard to follow.  The authors may consider using a table or summarize the main points in a paragraph at the end of the discussion. Conclusions are unusually too long; please consider restructuring the section by removing repetition.

Author Response

Reviewer 4: “I found the manuscript very clear, and it has the potential for scientific contributions. However, I found discussion and conclusions as too broad and somewhat scattered. Someone less familiar with these issues may find it hard to follow.  The authors may consider using a table or summarize the main points in a paragraph at the end of the discussion."

Beyond the discussion of relevant indicators, we have focused our conclusions on a few key points that we have also included in our abstract: FPAs should be established with clearly defined objectives, and these objectives should inform the selection of indicators for evaluation. Second, indicators identified for MPAs are highly relevant to FPAs, although methods may require adaptation to a freshwater environment. Finally, socioeconomic and governance indicators are overlooked in both MPA and FPA in evaluations compared to ecological indicators, and deserve more consideration. We have added two tables to the manuscript to clarify some of our discussion of individual indicators.

Reviewer 4: "Conclusions are unusually too long; please consider restructuring the section by removing repetition.”

 We have also trimmed and restructured the conclusions section to avoid repetition, as suggested.

Round 2

Reviewer 2 Report

The authors have addressed my comments and I hope to be able to share the published paper with colleagues, who would find it to be a useful resource.

Reviewer 3 Report

The work has been significantly improved and it is now clearer. The authors also followed my suggestions
However, it must be further reduced because it is difficult to follow.

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