Marine population connectivity identifies ecological neighbors for conservation planning in the Coral Triangle
Robust conservation plans seek to accommodate functional connectivity by establishing regional priorities and through decisions regarding the size and placement of protected areas. In marine systems, connectivity refers to the ecological linkages (primarily larval dispersal) between populations and protected areas. Unfortunately, connectivity data for the majority of populations are unavailable, requiring managers to rely on expert knowledge and general "scale" and "distance" guidelines. We present a novel approach for integrating model-based connectivity estimates into the conservation planning framework. We quantify multispecies connectivity across the Indo-Pacific and demonstrate how this informs conservation planning in the Coral Triangle across three levels: countries, ecoregions, and priority seascapes. The emergent network structure of ecological linkages between planning regions complements the current bioregionalization across the Coral Triangle. This new ecological network perspective will help (re)define partnerships and assist in coordinating policy actions, ultimately leading to a more effective planning process. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.