In the ocean, many species use more than one habitat during their lives, and young that are produced in a given area may live elsewhere as adults. The travels of larval, juvenile, and adult animals from place to place maintain connections among populations and habitats.
Marine managed areas (MMAs) must accommodate these ecological connections wherever possible, if they are to play an important role in sustaining ecosystem health. Scientists are 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.
- Connectivity Between Shallow- and Deep-water Conch Populations
In Belize, we investigated the widely held assumption that deep-water conch populations replenish those in shallow, more heavily harvested waters. To assess the level of connectivity, we analyzed the genetic similarity of conch in shallow and deep waters.
Principal Investigator: Richard Kliman
Science Report (PDF, 0.1 MB)
- Modeling Larval Dispersal of Reef-dwelling Species
In Belize, we developed 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.
Principal Investigator: Claire Paris-Limouzy
Science Report (PDF, 0.8 MB)
- Nursery Habitats for Reef Fish
We created maps of ecological linkages among coral reef, mangrove, and seagrass habitats, including migration routes and dispersal pathways of commercially important fish species.
Principal Investigators: Leandra Cho-Ricketts (Belize), Rodrigo Moura and Ken Lindeman (Brazil)
Science Report (PDF, 0.7 MB)
- Genetic Linkages Among Coral and Fish Populations
We used 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
Coral genetic connectivity (PDF, 0.8 MB)
Fish genetic connectivity (PDF, 0.3 MB)
- Do MMAs Replenish Populations of Fish Living Outside?
In Hawaii, we assessed the role played by MMAs in sustaining reef fish populations at varying distances outside MMA borders.
Principal Investigator: Mark Hixon
Science Report (PDF, 0.8 MB)
- Importance of Habitats Between Coral Reefs
We mapped and characterized the muddy, sandy, and hard-bottom habitats that lie between coral reefs and assessed the ecological importance of these inter-reefal habitats, which often have been undervalued in decisions about management planning and resource protection.
Principal Investigators: Philip Lobel (Belize); Guilherme Dutra, Rodrigo Moura, and Ruy Kikuchi (Brazil)
Belize (PDF, 0.5 MB)
Brazil (PDF, 0.2 MB)
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.
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.
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).
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.