Anticipating changes to future connectivity within a network of marine protected areas

Melinda A. Coleman*, Paulina Cetina-Heredia, Moninya Roughan, Ming Feng, Erik van Sebille, Brendan P. Kelaher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Continental boundary currents are projected to be altered under future scenarios of climate change. As these currents often influence dispersal and connectivity among populations of many marine organisms, changes to boundary currents may have dramatic implications for population persistence. Networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) often aim to maintain connectivity, but anticipation of the scale and extent of climatic impacts on connectivity are required to achieve this critical conservation goal in a future of climate change. For two key marine species (kelp and sea urchins), we use oceanographic modelling to predict how continental boundary currents are likely to change connectivity among a network of MPAs spanning over 1000 km of coastline off the coast of eastern Australia. Overall change in predicted connectivity among pairs of MPAs within the network did not change significantly over and above temporal variation within climatic scenarios, highlighting the need for future studies to incorporate temporal variation in dispersal to robustly anticipate likely change. However, the intricacies of connectivity between different pairs of MPAs were noteworthy. For kelp, poleward connectivity among pairs of MPAs tended to increase in the future, whereas equatorward connectivity tended to decrease. In contrast, for sea urchins, connectivity among pairs of MPAs generally decreased in both directions. Self-seeding within higher-latitude MPAs tended to increase, and the role of low-latitude MPAs as a sink for urchins changed significantly in contrasting ways. These projected changes have the potential to alter important genetic parameters with implications for adaptation and ecosystem vulnerability to climate change. Considering such changes, in the context of managing and designing MPA networks, may ensure that conservation goals are achieved into the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3533-3542
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Early online date2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Ecklonia radiata
  • Centrostephanus rodgersii
  • Climate change
  • Dispersal
  • Kelp
  • Marine reserve
  • Ocean currents
  • Urchin


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