The Conservation Planning Group has research projects that seek to investigate the importance of both social and ecological connectivity processes on conservation planning and conservation outcomes. Ecological connectivity – the exchange of individuals among patches of spatially discrete habitat – has broad implications for how and whether species persist in a region, how they respond to natural and anthropogenic disturbances, and how they should be managed. Social connectivity – how people are connected to each other and their connections to the environment – influences the efficacy of conservation and natural resource management strategies and governance structures.

Towards explicit objectives for connectivity in conservation planning
Research led by Dr Rebecca Weeks

The need to consider connectivity in the design of marine reserve networks has long been recognised. Connectivity processes, with larval dispersal key amongst these, are critical to whether species persist in a region, how they respond to natural and anthropogenic disturbances, and how they should be managed. However, in the context of conservation planning, connectivity has been poorly defined, objectives fail to address the ultimate reasons for focusing on connectivity, and guidelines have provided broad “rules of thumb” rather than specific, quantitative recommendations. During the past decade or so, empirical and modelling advances have greatly improved our understanding of larval dispersal processes, and a lack of data can no longer be considered an impediment to incorporating connectivity into conservation planning. Nevertheless, conceptual and practical challenges remain in translating spatial depictions of connectivity into potential locations for conservation areas.

Marine reserve networks in the Gulf of California
Research led by Dr Jorge Álvarez-Romero in collaboration with COBI

Overfishing and climate change threaten marine biodiversity and fisheries. Addressing these problems is critical in areas of high species richness and endemicity, such as the Midriff Islands, Gulf of California (Mexico), where livelihoods of coastal communities are threatened by depletion of fish stocks and potential loss of species associated with climate change. In collaboration with fishers, government agencies, and NGOs, we are guiding the design and implementation of a network of marine reserves for this priority conservation area. We developed a novel approach to designing marine reserve networks that consider the effects of ocean warming on larval connectivity.

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

The project puts forward an approach that represents an innovative attempt to incorporate connectivity information into routinely-used decision support tools that select optimal networks of marine protected areas (MPAs). This is an important step towards planning for species persistence, over and above representation within MPA networks. By using biophysical modeling and remote sensing, our study aims to provide a quantitative methodological framework that considers functional connectivity with a refined set of surrogates based on connectivity metrics. Coral reefs located on the Brazilian coast are used as a case study. While our study region is considered a conservation priority in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean, coral reefs in Brazil are also faced with intensifying threats from local and global pressures.

Collaboration networks and natural resource management
Research led by Dr. Jorge G. Álvarez-Romero, in collaboration with Dr. Vanessa Adams and Dr. Morena Mills

Collaborative networks are widely suggested as a key factor affecting the success of natural resource management (NRM) and conservation projects. Social network analysis (SNA) can be useful to study social relationships and interpreting their implications for NRM planning. Through the integration of SNA and other analytical methods, we are improving our understanding of collaboration networks in northern Australia. Our results can be useful to planners to identify key actors to facilitate engagement with diverse stakeholder groups, identify missing actors, and find ways to enable collaboration.

Marine Protected area network design in Micronesia
Research led by Dr Rebecca Weeks, in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy Micronesia

The dual aims of this project are to: 1. operationalise guidelines for marine protected area network design to ensure that MPAs are adequate to protect key fishery species of interest; and, at the same time, 2. explore options for improving the efficacy of the existing MPA network in Pohnpei. This research builds upon a recent review of larval dispersal and movement patterns of coral reef fishes and implications for marine reserve network design.

Seagrass connectivity to inform cumulative impact assessments and conservation planning
Research led by Dr Alana Grech

The rate of exchange, or connectivity, among populations affects their ability to recover after disturbance events. However, our understanding of the extent to which populations are connected is poor, especially in marine ecosystems. This project addresses a key research gap by using innovative spatial models to predict the connectivity of seagrass habitats in the iconic Great Barrier Reef. A numerical modelling approach will simulate the dispersal of seagrass, and a network analysis will identify critical habitats. This project advances the conservation and management of marine ecosystems by providing the information required to assess the cumulative impact of climatic and anthropogenic disturbances.


Adams V. M., Moon K., Álvarez-Romero J. G., Bodin Ö., Spencer M., Blackman D. 2018. Using multiple methods to understand the nature of relationships in social networks. Society & Natural Resources: In press

Álvarez-Romero, J.G., A. Munguia-Vega, M. Beger, et al. 2018. Designing connected marine reserves in the face of global warming. Global Change Biology 24: e671-e691

Álvarez-Romero, J.G., R.L. Pressey, N.C. Ban, J. Torre-Cosío, O. Aburto-Oropeza. 2013. Marine conservation planning in practice: lessons learned from the Gulf of California. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 23: 483-505

Green, A. L., A. P. Maypa, G. R. Almany, K. L. Rhodes, R. Weeks, P. J. Mumby, M. Gleason, R. A. Abesamis, and A. T. White. 2015. Larval dispersal and movement patterns of coral reef fishes, and implications for marine reserve network design. Biological Reviews 90: 1215-1247

Magris, R. A., R. L. Pressey, M. Mills, D. A. Vila-Nova, S. Floeter. 2017. Integrated conservation planning for coral reefs: designing conservation zones for multiple conservation objectives in spatial prioritisation. Global Ecology and Conservation 11: 53-68

Magris, R. A., R. L. Pressey, R. Weeks, and N. C. Ban. 2014. Integrating connectivity and climate change into marine conservation planning. Biological Conservation 170: 207–221

Magris, R.A., E.A. Treml, R. L. Pressey, R. Weeks. 2015. Integrating multiple species connectivity and habitat quality into conservation planning for coral reefs. Ecography 39: 649–664

Mills, M., J. G. Álvarez-Romero, K. Vance-Borland, H. Ernstson, P. Cohen, A. Guerrero, R. L. Pressey. 2014. Linking regional planning and local action: towards using social network analysis in systematic conservation planning. Biological Conservation 169: 6-13

Weeks, R. 2017. Incorporating seascape connectivity in conservation prioritisation. 2017. PLoS ONE 12(7): e0182396