Planning for persistence in marine reserves: a question of catastrophic importance

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Game, Edward T., Watts, Matthew E., Wooldrdge, Scott, and Possingham, Hugh P.
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Large-scale catastrophic events, although rare, lie generally beyond the control of local management and can prevent marine reserves from achieving biodiversity outcomes. We formulate a new conservation planning problem that aims to minimize the probability of missing conservation targets as a result of catastrophic events. To illustrate this approach we formulate and solve the problem of minimizing the impact of large-scale coral bleaching events on a reserve system for the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. We show that by considering the threat of catastrophic events as part of the reserve design problem it is possible to substantially improve the likely persistence of conservation features within reserve networks for a negligible increase in cost. In the case of the Great Barrier Reef, a 2% increase in overall reserve cost was enough to improve the long-run performance of our reserve network by >60%. Our results also demonstrate that simply aiming to protect the reefs at lowest risk of catastrophic bleaching does not necessarily lead to the best conservation outcomes, and enormous gains in overall persistence can be made by removing the requirement to represent all bioregions in the reserve network. We provide an explicit and well-defined method that allows the probability of catastrophic disturbances to be included in the site selection problem without creating additional conservation targets or imposing arbitrary presence/absence thresholds on existing data. This research has implications for reserve design in a changing climate.


Game, E. T., M. E. Watts, S. Wooldridge, and H. P. Possingham. 2008. Planning for persistence in marine reserves: a question of catastrophic importance. Ecological Applications 18:670–680.