Coral Trout, plectropomus maculatusIn 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.

nKiHEIQbOeNzmp3OFbOlE8UAmGq0JLzcgVmockFiiSoNew 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.


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. Fieldwork in the Keppel Islands

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.


Paris workshop team
Paris workshop team

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:

  • A review of previous approaches taken to consider connectivity in conservation planning
  • Definition of quantitative objectives for larval dispersal in marine protected area network design
  • New tools for spatial conservation prioritisation that include patch-specific connectivity objectives (e.g. for larval recruitment to individual marine protected areas)
  • New network theoretic approaches to conservation prioritisation and scheduling management actions, based on larval connectivity, disturbance regimes and metapopulation persistence
  • Development of new approaches to consider dynamic processes (larval dispersal) and threats (climate change impacts) in conservation prioritization for Brazilian coral reefs
  • Assessments of the added value of empirical connectivity data for conservation planning (i.e. how well do existing rules of thumb perform, compared to explicit methods for targeting larval dispersal?)


    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.


    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


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