Population connectivity (i.e., larval dispersal or migration) is critical for metapopulation persistence and helps determine a species’ ability to cope with climate change. It is fundamental to understanding of population dynamics and biodiversity patterns, and informing in climate-smart conservation and management strategies. Our research focuses on understanding this connectivity from ecological to long-term evolutionary scales. Along with field and lab-based approaches, we use a variety of high-tech tools, including programming, geographic information systems (GIS), high performance computing (HPC), spatially-explicit dynamic modelling (e.g., MATLAB), spatial statistics (R), network analysis (R), oceanographic models (e.g., ozROMS, HYCOM, SCHISM), and satellite remote sensing data.
Current Research Programs
I. Reef Resilience in Port Phillip Bay and the Victorian coast.
Port Phillip is a large semi-enclosed bay in Victoria, home to millions of people and one of the largest ports in Australia. Although its rocky reefs harbour rich marine biodiversity and supports a variety of local fisheries, the Bay is also one of the most invaded marine systems on the planet. The primary goals of this research program are a) to estimate regional connectivity of key functional groups (urchins, kelp, fish), b) to determine the important life-history, ecological, and environmental drivers of connectivity, and c) to identify key populations important to building rocky reef resilience. Funding: Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC). Collaborators: Deakin’s EcoGenetics Lab (link), Deakin’s Marine Mapping group (link), Deakin’s Blue Carbon Lab (link), University of Melbourne, CSIRO, Parks Victoria and others. Figure: Fish connectivity among the rocky reefs of Port Phillip Bay.
II. Building sustainable local-scale fisheries.
Climate change and coastal over-fishing are threatening the ecological integrity and resilience of our marine systems. MSEaC is working closely with Rare to develop strategies and capacity to help local communities make decisions on where to establish marine reserves to protect important fished populations. We are working with local communities in the Philippines, Indonesia, Mozambique, Federated States of Micronesia, and Brazil. MSEaC co-develops management strategies ased on predictions of marine connectivity and metapopulation dynamics. Locals have used our data and predictions to develop systems of marine reserves to help build resilience within their communities and within their local marine environment. Funding: Rare, The World Wildlife Fund, USAID, World Bank, ARC. Collaborators: Rare (link), Marine Spatial Ecology Lab at the University of Queensland (link), University of Tasmania (N. Krueck), University of Leeds (M Beger). Figure: Conservation priorities in SE Sulawesi for sustainable fisheries.
III. Marine Biosecurity.
Marine coastal environments are under increased biosecurity threat posed by recreational and commercial vessels (e.g., biofouling and ballast) spreading non-indigenous marine pests and diseases. MESaC, working with local and international partners, is building numerical models of pest movement (eDNA & larval dispersal) around Australia and New Zealand to help optimise monitoring and maximise pest detection likelihoods. We are also developing vessel pathway networks to predict potential threat and incursion outcomes in an effort to develop fast response strategies. Funding: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) of New Zealand, Parks Victoria. Collaborators: Cawthron Institute (link), Deakin’s EcoGenetics Lab (link). Figure: Biosecurity risk in New Zealand from international commercial vessels.
IV. Population connectivity, biodiversity, & adaptive gene flow across the Indo-Pacific.
MSEaC is developing numerical models to quantify the spatial and temporal patterns in marine population connectivity to estimate metapopulation persistence and gene flow in marine organisms across Austarlia and the Indo-Pacific. In this research, we seek to 1) identify the probable dispersal routes and population structure for marine species, and 2) quantify the likely influence this connectivity has on genetic diversity, gene flow, and the likelihood for adaptive gene flow outcomes. This spatially-explicit research integrates a network-based approach with population genetic data and biophysical modelling to quantify the spatial structure of dispersal and gene flow. Funding: The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), World Wildlife Fund, ARC, Rare. Collaborators: AIMS-WA (R. Galaiduk, B Radford, J Underwood, J Gilmour and others), Matz Lab at the University of Texas (link), Riginos Research Group at the University of Queensland (link), Aguirre Lab at Massey University. Figure: multi-species dispersal corridors across the Indo-Pacific
V. Conservation Networks and Ecological Neighbours.
Conservation plans seek to accommodate functional connectivity by establishing regional priorities regarding the size and placement of protected areas. Using model-based connectivity estimates and existing conservation/management frameworks (e.g., countries, ecoregions), MSEaC is helping to (re)define partnerships and assist in coordinating policy actions for a more effective planning process. Funding: WWF-US, USAID, Rare. Collaborators: Stockholm Resilience Centre (Ö. Bodin, link), James Cook University (G. Russ), Silliman University (R. Abesamis). Figure: Ecological-Institutional (Mis)alignment across the Bohol seascape (Philippines)