Planning Marine Reserve Networks for Both Feature Representation and Demographic Persistence Using Connectivity Patterns

PLoS One. 2016 May 11;11(5):e0154272. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154272. eCollection 2016.


Marine reserve networks must ensure the representation of important conservation features, and also guarantee the persistence of key populations. For many species, designing reserve networks is complicated by the absence or limited availability of spatial and life-history data. This is particularly true for data on larval dispersal, which has only recently become available. However, systematic conservation planning methods currently incorporate demographic processes through unsatisfactory surrogates. There are therefore two key challenges to designing marine reserve networks that achieve feature representation and demographic persistence constraints. First, constructing a method that efficiently incorporates persistence as well as complementary feature representation. Second, incorporating persistence using a mechanistic description of population viability, rather than a proxy such as size or distance. Here we construct a novel systematic conservation planning method that addresses both challenges, and parameterise it to design a hypothetical marine reserve network for fringing coral reefs in the Keppel Islands, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. For this application, we describe how demographic persistence goals can be constructed for an important reef fish species in the region, the bar-cheeked trout (Plectropomus maculatus). We compare reserve networks that are optimally designed for either feature representation or demographic persistence, with a reserve network that achieves both goals simultaneously. As well as being practically applicable, our analyses also provide general insights into marine reserve planning for both representation and demographic persistence. First, persistence constraints for dispersive organisms are likely to be much harder to achieve than representation targets, due to their greater complexity. Second, persistence and representation constraints pull the reserve network design process in divergent directions, making it difficult to efficiently achieve both constraints. Although our method can be readily applied to the data-rich Keppel Islands case study, we finally consider the factors that limit the method's utility in information-poor contexts common in marine conservation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / physiology*
  • Australia
  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Coral Reefs
  • Ecosystem
  • Fisheries / organization & administration*
  • Islands
  • Larva / physiology*
  • Perciformes / physiology*
  • Planning Techniques
  • Trout / physiology*

Grant support

MB was funded by Australian Research Council (ARC) DECRA DE130100572. MB was funded by ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions. DW, RW, GJ, GA, HH, JH, RP were funded by ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.