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

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

Free PMC article

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

Michael Bode et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article


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.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1
(a) Location of the Keppel Islands on the east coast of Australia. Individual reefs in the Great Barrier Reef are shown with light blue markers. The red box indicates the specific location of the Keppel Islands in the southern GBRMP. The remaining figures show the detailed location of the Keppel Islands and different optimal reserve networks. Colored polygons indicate the planning units: no-take reserve in green, non-reserve in blue. (b) The reserve network that satisfies constraints for both feature representation and demographic persistence, while minimizing the opportunity costs to fishers. (c) The reserve network that satisfies the feature representation constraints at a minimum cost to fishers. (d) The reserve network that satisfies the demographic persistence constraints at a minimum cost to fishers. The map incorporates data which is the copyright of the Commonwealth of Australia (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority), and used with permission of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has not evaluated to Data as altered and incorporated, and therefore gives no warranty regarding its accuracy, completeness, currency or suitability for any particular purpose.
Fig 2
Fig 2. Relative strength of the two constraints on the conservation plan.
The constraint for feature representation increases along the x-axis. Black crosses show the size of the no-take reserve networks required to optimally satisfy both constraints, with the demographic persistence constraints kept constant at our calculated values and the feature representation constraint increasing from left to right. Grey circles show the protection needed to optimally meet the constraints for feature representation, but not the constraint for demographic persistence. The marker ‘A’ is equivalent to the reserve network in Fig 1d. The marker ‘B’ is equivalent to Fig 1c. The marker ‘C’ is equivalent to Fig 1b.

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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.