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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 466:155-166 (2012)  -  DOI:

Surrogates for reef fish connectivity when designing marine protected area networks

Michael Bode1,*, Paul R. Armsworth2, Helen E. Fox3, Lance Bode4,5

1ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Victoria, 3010, Australia
2Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA
3Conservation Science Program, World Wildlife Fund United States, 1250 24th Street, NW, Washington, DC, USA
4Sohar University, Sohar, Sultanate of Oman
5School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

ABSTRACT: Reef fishes and other marine species occur in patchily distributed benthic populations that are interlinked by a larval stage where individuals disperse throughout the pelagic environment. This larval connectivity will play a critical role in determining whether marine protected area (MPA) networks can effectively promote the persistence of increasingly exploited reef fish populations. However, the amount, direction and variation of this connectivity are unknown for most species in most reef ecosystems of conservation concern. Furthermore, connectivity data are difficult to obtain and expensive to measure. Here, we demonstrate that if MPA locations are chosen according to certain easily measurable reef characteristics—‘connectivity surrogates’—the resulting MPA networks can maintain reef fish populations and allow fishery harvests superior to random expectation. Surrogates offer managers an opportunity to cheaply consider connectivity into MPA network design while data collection on connectivity is ongoing. We use a high-resolution biophysical model of reef fish larval connectivity on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) to assess the effectiveness of 5 connectivity surrogates: 2 based on the reef’s physical dimensions, 2 based on spawning biomass and 1 based on the efficient representation of conservation features. Biomass attributes generally perform best; however, the appropriate choice depends on the size of the proposed MPA network and the relative value placed on conservation outcomes and fisheries performance. Our results are relatively insensitive to the parameters used in the model and the morphology of the reef system. This robustness suggests that insights from the GBR could provide useful guidance to the management of other reef systems.

KEY WORDS: Coral trout · Plectropomus leopardus · Larval dispersal · Marine reserve planning

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Cite this article as: Bode M, Armsworth PR, Fox HE, Bode L (2012) Surrogates for reef fish connectivity when designing marine protected area networks. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 466:155-166.

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