Catastrophes, resilience, and the theory of designing marine reserves

Edward Game (2008). Catastrophes, resilience, and the theory of designing marine reserves PhD Thesis, School of Integrative Biology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Edward Game
Thesis Title Catastrophes, resilience, and the theory of designing marine reserves
School, Centre or Institute School of Integrative Biology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2008-08
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Hugh Possingham
Dr Alan Butler
Total pages 133
Total colour pages 8
Total black and white pages 125
Subjects 270000 Biological Sciences
Abstract/Summary Chronic anthropogenic disturbance has left many marine systems at risk of degrading into undesirable states. In many cases, ecosystem shifts are triggered by catastrophic disturbance events that are beyond the control of local management, such as coral bleaching or cyclones. Recognition of this risk has instigated what has been referred to as a new paradigm for marine stewardship; managing areas with the explicit goal of maintaining ecosystem resilience. Despite this, there has been little synthetic influence of resilience theory on marine conservation planning. This thesis focuses on how to make good decisions regarding the selection of marine protected areas (MPAs), in the face of catastrophic disturbance events and for the conservation of highly dynamic marine systems. Large-scale catastrophic events, although rare, lie generally beyond the control of local management and can prevent marine reserves from achieving biodiversity outcomes. In Chapter 2, I formulate a new conservation planning problem that aims to minimize the probability of missing marine conservation targets as result of catastrophic events. To illustrate this approach, I address the problem of minimizing the impact of large scale coral bleaching events on a reserve system for the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. By explicitly considering the threat of catastrophic bleaching as part of the reserve design problem, it was possible to substantially improve the likely persistence of coral reefs within reserve networks, for a negligible increase in reserve cost. The 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. It is thought that recovery of marine habitats from uncontrollable disturbance may be faster in marine reserves than in unprotected habitats. But which marine habitats should be protected, those areas at greatest risk or those at least risk? In Chapter 3, I define this problem mathematically for two alternate conservation objectives and determine under which conditions each of the different protection strategies are optimal. With regard to the risk of uncontrollable disturbance, the optimal protection strategy depends on both the conservation objective and the expected rate of habitat recovery inside and outside protected areas. I illustrate this decision making with an example of cyclone disturbance of coral reefs on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. An adequate consideration of risk can indicate surprising routes to conservation success. The resilience of coral reef systems is closely linked to the presence of grazing herbivores. Although herbivore populations are generally protected through permanent static reserves, the benefits of protection are dynamic in both time and space. Periodically moving protection between reefs allows access to the greatest potential benefits of reservation and can help address social reluctance to permanently close areas. Using analytic methods to solve a theoretical case study, I demonstrate that periodically rotating protection around a reef system can lead to greater average reef resilience than under static protection, but only if the overall level of reservation is high enough or the rotation does not include all reefs in the system. The past ten years have seen increasing enthusiasm for MPAs as a tool for pelagic conservation. However, numerous criticisms have been levelled against the use of place-based management in such a dynamic environment. Evidence, tools and information to address these criticisms and establish the feasibility and relevance of pelagic MPAs are dispersed across the conservation, oceanography and fisheries management literature. In Chapter 5, I review this information and present a synthetic framework for systematic planning of pelagic MPAs. Although many of the lessons learned so far about MPA design in coastal systems can be transferred to pelagic systems, there are some fundamental differences and new challenges involved in the conservation of patchy and highly dynamic resources. These challenges are very much at the leading edge of new conservation science and are likely to stimulate solutions with impact far beyond the design of pelagic MPAs.
Keyword marine protected areas, reserve selection, catastrophes, resilience, risk, coral reefs, conservation planning, Great Barrier Reef, pelagic ecosystems
Additional Notes Colour pages: 20,59,61-62,66,72,88,90 Landscape pages: 81-83

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