Canoes in Abrolhos, Brazil.
Connectivity Among Populations and Habitats
In the ocean, the travels of larval, juvenile, and adult animals from place to place maintain connections among populations and habitats. Many species use more than one habitat during their lives, and young that are produced in a given area may live elsewhere as adults.
Marine management areas (MMAs) must accommodate these ecological connections wherever possible, if they are to play an important role in sustaining ecosystem health. The MMAS Program is studying connectivity among populations and habitats in coral reef ecosystems around the world. The findings will enable managers to design and implement more effective MMAs by considering the degree of genetic and ecological linkages inside and outside their boundaries.
MMAS Research Program
- Connectivity between shallow- and deep-water conch populations. We are investigating the widely held assumption that deep-water conch populations replenish those in shallow, more heavily harvested waters. To assess the level of connectivity, we are analyzing the genetic similarity of conch in shallow and deep waters. Location: Belize. Principal investigator: Richard Kliman.
View the Work Plan >>
- Modeling larval dispersal of reef-dwelling species. We are developing a biophysical model of coastal ocean circulation to determine to what degree larval fish emerging from spawning aggregations at particular reefs maintain connections to other coastal habitats. Location: Belize. Principal investigator: Claire Paris-Limouzy.
View the Work Plan >>
- Habitats used by reef-dwelling species during early life stages. We are creating maps of ecological linkages among coral reef, mangrove, and seagrass habitats, including migration routes and dispersal pathways of commercially important fish species. Locations: Belize and Brazil. Principal investigators: Leandra Cho-Ricketts (Belize); Rodrigo Moura and Ken Lindeman (Brazil). View the Work Plan >>
- Genetic linkages among coral and fish populations. We are using genetic markers to measure the degree of connectivity of coral and fish populations among and within island archipelagos in the South Pacific Ocean. Principal investigators: Paul Barber and Steve Palumbi. View the Work Plan >>
- Do MMAs replenish populations of fish living outside? We are assessing the role played by MMAs in sustaining reef fish populations at varying distances outside their borders. Location: Hawaii. Principal investigator: Mark Hixon. View the Work Plan >>
- Importance of habitats between coral reefs. We are mapping and characterizing the muddy, sandy, and hard-bottom habitats that lie between coral reefs and assessing the ecological importance of these inter-reefal habitats, which often have been undervalued in decisions about management planning and resource protection. Locations: Belize and Brazil. Principal investigators: Philip Lobel (Belize); Guilherme Dutra, Rodrigo Moura, and Ruy Kikuchi (Brazil). View the Work Plan >>
- Locations of multi-species spawning aggregations. We are testing the hypothesis that multi-species spawning aggregations tend to occur at particular types of reef promontories. The findings can be used to ensure that MMAs adequately protect spawning areas. Principal investigator: Les Kaufman. View the Work Plan >>
Science to Action
- MMAS and CI-Pacific partners in Fiji have developed posters that illustrate the key science and resource management messages from our genetic connectivity studies. The posters have been used in numerous discussions with village chiefs, national policymakers, and other target audiences. The posters have also been distributed to Pacific Regional partners. One poster is being adapted for the Caribbean, where it will be used in a regional campaign to protect coral reef systems.
- When leaders in Nagigi village learned of the findings about the genetic uniqueness of Fiji’s fish and the intra-connectedness of species within the archipelago, they decided to create a marine management area in their local waters.
- We produced a DVD of brief video segments that present our reef creature connectivity findings in an engaging way for non-scientists. Created by scientist Steve Palumbi with Garthwait & Griffin Films, the DVD is called Nai Talanoa Ni Kua Mai Na Noda Veicakau (Stories of Today from the Reef).
- During a NOAA-MPA training workshop, MMAS-funded scientists presented findings about the varying degrees of genetic connectivity among Fiji’s reef fish populations. Participants from numerous organizations in the region said they would use the information to help design more effective MMAs.
- Based on findings presented in a 2008 meeting including 27 expert speakers, we published Lessons on Connectivity and Conservation in Coral Reef Habitats: A Summary from the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium. The document provides guidance for managers thinking about ecological connectivity in their marine conservation work.