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Beyond connectivity: how empirical methods can quantify population persistence to improve marine protected-area design.

  • Author(s): Burgess, Scott C;
  • Nickols, Kerry J;
  • Griesemer, Chris D;
  • Barnett, Lewis AK;
  • Dedrick, Allison G;
  • Satterthwaite, Erin V;
  • Yamane, Lauren;
  • Morgan, Steven G;
  • White, J Wilson;
  • Botsford, Louis W
  • et al.

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Demographic connectivity is a fundamental process influencing the dynamics and persistence of spatially structured populations. Consequently, quantifying connectivity is essential for properly designing networks of protected areas so that they achieve their core ecological objective of maintaining population persistence. Recently, many empirical studies in marine systems have provided essential, and historically challenging to obtain, data on patterns of larval dispersal and export from marine protected areas (MPAs). Here, we review the empirical studies that have directly quantified the origins and destinations of individual larvae and assess those studies' relevance to the theory of population persistence and MPA design objectives. We found that empirical studies often do not measure or present quantities that are relevant to assessing population persistence, even though most studies were motivated or contextualized by MPA applications. Persistence of spatial populations, like nonspatial populations, depends on replacement, whether individuals reproduce enough in their lifetime to replace themselves. In spatial populations, one needs to account for the effect of larval dispersal on future recruitment back to the local population through local retention and other connectivity pathways. The most commonly reported descriptor of larval dispersal was the fraction of recruitment from local origin (self-recruitment). Self-recruitment does not inform persistence-based MPA design because it is a fraction of those arriving, not a fraction of those leaving (local retention), so contains no information on replacement. Some studies presented connectivity matrices, which can inform assessments of persistence with additional knowledge of survival and fecundity after recruitment. Some studies collected data in addition to larval dispersal that could inform assessments of population persistence but which were not presented in that way. We describe how three pieces of empirical information are needed to fully describe population persistence in a network of MPAs: (1) lifetime fecundity, (2) the proportion of larvae that are locally retained (or the full connectivity matrix), and (3) survival rate after recruitment. We conclude by linking theory and data to provide detailed guidance to empiricists and practitioners on field sampling design and data presentation that better informs the MPA objective of population persistence.

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