Date: 06 Jul 2009

A Landscape Ecology Approach for the Study of Ecological Connectivity Across Tropical Marine Seascapes

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Abstract

Connectivity across the seascape is expected to have profound consequences for the behavior, growth, survival, and spatial distribution of marine species. A landscape ecology approach offers great utility for studying ecological connectivity in tropical marine seascapes. Landscape ecology provides a well developed conceptual and operational framework for addressing complex multi-scale questions regarding the influence of spatial patterning on ecological processes. Landscape ecology can provide quantitative and spatially explicit information at scales relevant to resource management decision making. It will allow us to begin asking key questions such as ‘how much habitat to protect?’, ‘What type of habitat to protect?’, and ‘Which seascape patterns provide optimal, suboptimal, or dysfunctional connectivity for mobile marine organisms?’. While landscape ecology is increasingly being applied to tropical marine seascapes, few studies have dealt explicitly with the issue of connectivity. Herein, we examine the application of landscape ecology to better understand ecological connectivity in tropical marine ecosystems by: (1) reviewing landscape ecology concepts, (2) discussing the landscape ecology methods and tools available for evaluating connectivity, (3) examining data needs and obstacles, (4) reviewing lessons learned from terrestrial landscape ecology and from coral reef ecology studies, and (5) discussing the implications of ecological connectivity for resource management. Several recent studies conducted in coral reef ecosystems demonstrate the powerful utility of landscape ecology approaches for improving our understanding of ecological connectivity and applying results to make more informed decisions for conservation planning.