Management of coral reefs, for conservation and/or for sustainable fisheries requires that we manage human impact to a level that is sustainable by the populations of reef organisms. This depends on the ability of the local (impacted) population to grow, and this population growth depends upon connectivity as well as on local reproductive potential. In particular, design and management of Marine Protected Areas depend on knowledge of the connectivity relationships of the local populations of targeted species.
The Connectivity Working Group is focusing on demographic connectivity (transfer of organisms). This is seen as the most challenging form of connectivity to investigate. Studying demographic connectivity will require improved capacity to model hydrodynamics that drive other forms of connectivity.
The primary objective of the Working Group is to undertake demonstration projects that will make empirical measurements of connectivity for selected species at specific locations. This means that new methods for tracing the movements of larvae from source populations to settlement sites will be developed. These new methods will become additional ecological tools for measuring demographic connectivity in other species and other sites, while the demonstration projects will provide early information on connectivity in the specific cases studied.
Major areas of research activity and capacity building are:
- Development of techniques for tracking dispersal of planula larvae
- Genetic studies of coral populations to discern likely connectivity patterns
- Studies of a typical fish species that does not aggregate over large distances to spawn
- Factors responsible for critical bottlenecks in coral recruitment.
- Lobster recruitment and larval biology for use in building models of larval dispersal
- Assist local management agencies to understand connectivity, recruitment, protected area management, and population resilience