Climate change poses many challenges for conservation planning. Species’ ranges will shift, and species will need to move from present to future suitable space, perhaps over long distances and across barriers created by humans. Climate change will alter the dynamics of patchy disturbances, such as warm anomalies in sea-surface temperature, and rates of recovery from those disturbances. Moreover, models of future conditions all come with uncertainty. All of this means that planning methods developed for present conditions must be adapted to deal with seascapes and landscapes that are progressively shifting, and not always in ways that planners understand. The Conservation Planning Group has projects underway in marine and terrestrial environments that aim to address these challenges.

Conservation planning for climate change adaptation
Research led by Dr April Reside

Biodiversity conservation in the face of climate change requires managing current areas of high value, and areas of future value such as those needed for species to track suitable habitat. For maximum benefit, carbon storage and sequestration should be included without jeopardising biodiversity priorities. Priority areas for both biodiversity and carbon can then be protected or restored. This project aims to demonstrate how this can be achieved for the Wet Tropics NRM Region, incorporating uncertainty and examining potential trade-offs across biodiversity conservation and carbon. I show how multiple time horizons and objectives need to be included for long-term persistence of species.

Advancing conservation planning for persistence: design of a long-term conservation strategy for Brazilian coral reefs
Research led by Dr Rafael Magris

Incorporating climate-change impacts into the design of marine protected areas (MPAs) is fundamental to developing appropriate conservation actions to confer ecosystem resilience. This project aims to advance marine conservation planning by integrating spatial historic variability in thermal stress with projected changes related to warm anomalies across the seascape. By identifying the relative exposures of reefs to different historic and future thermal stress regimes using measures of chronic and acute stress, we apply our approach to Brazilian coral reefs, where warming temperatures appear to be driving both coral bleaching and the incidence of coral diseases. We then propose a dynamic MPA design approach that includes explicit spatial and temporal information on climate-impacts to determine reserve spatial configurations that meet conservation objectives related to climate change.

Modelling coral reef futures to inform management: can reducing local-scale stressors conserve reefs under climate change?
Research led by Georgina Gurney

Climate change has emerged as a principal threat to coral reefs, and is expected to exacerbate coral reef degradation caused by more localised stressors. Management of local stressors is widely advocated to bolster coral reef resilience, but the extent to which management of local stressors might affect future trajectories of reef state remains unclear. This is in part because of limited understanding of the cumulative impact of multiple stressors. Models are ideal tools to aid understanding of future reef state under alternative management and climatic scenarios, but to date few have been sufficiently developed to be useful as decision support tools for local management of coral reefs subject to multiple stressors. We used a simulation model of coral reefs to investigate the extent to which the management of local stressors (namely poor water quality and fishing) might influence future reef state under varying climatic scenarios relating to coral bleaching. We parameterised the model for Bolinao, the Philippines, and explored how simulation modelling can be used to provide decision support for local management. We found that management of water quality, and to a lesser extent fishing, can have a significant impact on future reef state, including coral recovery following bleaching-induced mortality. The stressors we examined interacted antagonistically to affect reef state, highlighting the importance of considering the combined impact of multiple stressors rather than considering them individually. Further, by providing explicit guidance for management of Bolinao’s reef system, such as which course of management action will most likely to be effective over what time scales and at which sites, we demonstrated the utility of simulation models for supporting management.

Designing connected marine reserves in the face of global warming
Research led by Dr Jorge G. Álvarez-Romero

Global warming can disrupt ecological connectivity among marine reserves by shortening potential dispersal pathways through changes in larval physiology. These changes can compromise the effectiveness of marine reserve networks, thus requiring adjusting their design to account for ocean warming. Using the Gulf of California as case study, we propose a framework for planning marine reserve networks that integrates graph theory and changes in larval connectivity due to ocean warming. Given expected changes in larval connectivity, we show that our graph-theoretical approach based on centrality of habitat patches can help design better connected marine reserve networks for the future with equivalent costs.


Álvarez-Romero, J. G., A. Munguía-Vega, M. Beger, M. Mancha-Cisneros, A. Suárez-Castillo, G. Gurney, R. L. Pressey, L. R. Gerber, H. Morzaria-Luna, H. Reyes-Bonilla, V. M. Adams, M. Kolb, E. Graham, J. VanDerWal, A. Castillo-López, G. Hinojosa-Arango, D. Petatán-Ramírez, M. Moreno-Baez, C. Godínez-Reyes, J. Torre. 2017. Designing connected marine reserves in the face of global warming. Global Change Biology 00: 1–21

Gurney, G.G., Melbourne-Thomas, J., Geronimo, R.C., Aliño, P.M., Johnson, C.R., 2013. Modelling coral reef futures to inform management: can reducing local-scale stressors conserve reefs under climate change? PLoS ONE 8, e80137

Magris, R.A., Heron, S.F., Pressey, R.L., 2015. Conservation planning for coral reefs accounting for climate warming disturbances. PLoS ONE 10(11), e0140828

Reside, A., N. Butt, V. Adams. 2017. Adapting systematic conservation planning for climate change. Biodiversity and Conservation 27(1): 1-29

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