WHY IS THIS RESEARCH NEEDED?
In the last decade, many papers and policy documents have put forth guidelines that have emphasised the need to incorporate ecological patterns of connectivity in marine protected area network design. However in the context of conservation planning, connectivity has been poorly defined, and guidelines have focused on providing broad “rules of thumb”, as opposed to specific, quantitative recommendations.
Despite increased knowledge of the extent of larval dispersal in recent years, connectivity remains a major knowledge gap in designing marine protected area networks. Explicit consideration of connectivity processes in marine conservation planning has been impeded by a paucity of empirical data, and a lack of specific, quantitative objectives.
New empirical data, acquired through novel techniques such as genetic parentage analysis, have advanced our understanding of complex ecological connectivity processes, and the spatial scales across which they need to be managed. We are now in a position to advance conservation planning theory and develop new tools for spatial conservation prioritisation that move beyond ensuring representation of static biodiversity features (e.g., species and habitats), to also consider dynamic connectivity processes.
HOW WILL THIS RESEARCH HELP?
The effective design of marine protected area networks requires an understanding of connectivity processes in order to inform decisions about the size, spacing and location of reserves. This research will provide important insights and tools to guide conservation practitioners faced with making these decisions.
Our research will develop new theories of how to use information on larval dispersal and population connectivity to inform marine protected area network design. We will develop spatial optimisation and prioritisation tools capable of explicitly targeting dynamic connectivity processes, and apply these in regions where empirical connectivity data is emerging. These new tools will be then be used to test the efficacy of existing rules of thumb in achieving quantitative, ecologically informed objectives. This will provide information on the value of empirical connectivity data, and help to refine rules of thumb for the many areas where such data are lacking.
The foundation for this research is an exciting collaboration between researchers with diverse and complementary skillsets, including conservation planners, mathematical modellers, spatial ecologists, empirical biologists and population geneticists.
An initial workshop was convened on Magnetic Island (Australia), in February 2013. Several manuscripts in preparation emerging from that workshop were presented at dedicated symposia at the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania Conference (Suva, Fiji, July 2014) and the International Marine Conservation Congress (Glasgow, UK, August 2014). Immediately following the Glasgow conference, a second workshop was convened in Paris by colleagues from Labex Corail. Watch this space for upcoming papers and new research projects!
This project began in February 2013, and is ongoing. Anticipated research outputs include:
WHERE IS THE RESEARCH HAPPENING?
This research builds upon empirical and modeling work undertaken in the Keppel Islands, Australia; Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea; the Bohol Sea, Philippines; Brazil and the Coral Triangle.
WHO IS ON THE TEAM?
Dr Rebecca Weeks, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Professor Bob Pressey, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Mr Rafael Magris, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Dr David Williamson, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Dr Michael Bode, The University of Melbourne
Dr Glenn Almany, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université de Perpignan
Dr. Stuart Kininmonth, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Dr. Rene Abesamis, Silliman University Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management
Professor Geoff Jones, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Dr. Eric Treml, The University of Melbourne
Larval dispersal and its influence on fisheries management – Glenn Almany
Marine reserves, habitat change and connectivity – Geoff Jones
Conservation planning for connectivity in the Coral Triangle – Rebecca Weeks