A new paper in the journal Biological Conservation analyzes the ways in which climate change and connectivity have been accommodated in MPA planning. Based on the review, the research team recommends several approaches that practitioners can take to ensure that future climate change is integrated in planning, and measured as it occurs. These approaches include using generic rules of thumb for size and spacing of MPAs, and applying replication to the conservation of desirable features, among other strategies. The paper is at www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320713004539.

In MPA News over the years, experts have suggested a variety of strategies for designing MPAs and MPA networks with future climate change in mind. These have included the possibility of adaptive, movable boundaries for MPAs that would change over time to follow climate-related shifts of species or habitats (MPA News 6:8). They have also suggested protecting geologic features associated with high biodiversity and endemism, like upwelling areas or canyons – the assumption being that even as species shift their ranges, those features would continue to be associated with highly biodiverse or endemic groups of species (MPA News 9:8).

Rafael Magris of James Cook University, who led the research team, notes such concepts are included in the study’s recommended strategies. “Our framework covers a broad spectrum of possible approaches,” he says. “These include ways of accommodating species’ range shifts, as well as identifying surrogates associated with desirable features to include in MPA networks. We comment, however, on the general lack of an evidence base for such approaches. Clearly, the design of MPA networks is a serious undertaking, with implications for conservation costs, extractive industries, and the persistence of marine biodiversity. Our review highlights the early stages of thinking about MPA design to accommodate climate change, and the need for stronger evidence to test and refine approaches.”

For more information:

Rafael Magris, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia. Email: rafael.magris@my.jcu.edu.au