Coral Reefs

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 291–307 | Cite as

Distribution of two species of sea snakes, Aipysurus laevis and Emydocephalus annulatus, in the southern Great Barrier Reef: metapopulation dynamics, marine protected areas and conservation

  • V. Lukoschek
  • H. Heatwole
  • A. Grech
  • G. Burns
  • H. Marsh


Aipysurus laevis and Emydocephalus annulatus typically occur in spatially discrete populations, characteristic of metapopulations; however, little is known about the factors influencing the spatial and temporal stability of populations or whether specific conservation strategies, such as networks of marine protected areas, will ensure the persistence of species. Classification tree analyses of 35 years of distribution data (90 reefs, surveyed 1–11 times) in the southern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) revealed that longitude was a major factor determining the status of A. laevis on reefs (present = 38, absent = 38 and changed = 14). Reef exposure and reef area were also important; however, these factors did not specifically account for the population fluctuations and the recent local extinctions of A. laevis in this region. There were no relationships between the status of E. annulatus (present = 16, absent = 68 and changed = 6) and spatial or physical variables. Moreover, prior protection status of reefs did not account for the distribution of either species. Biotic factors, such as habitat and prey availability and the distribution of predators, which may account for the observed patterns of distribution, are discussed. The potential for inter-population exchange among sea snake populations is poorly understood, as is the degree of protection that will be afforded to sea snakes by the recently implemented network of No-take areas in the GBR. Data from this study provide a baseline for evaluating the responses of A. laevis and E. annulatus populations to changes in biotic factors and the degree of protection afforded on reefs within an ecosystem network of No-take marine protected areas in the southern GBR.


Classification tree Connectivity Marine protected area Metapopulation Sea snake 



These surveys were funded by: The Internal Research Funds of the University of New England, The Australian Research Grants Scheme, Marine Sciences and Technology, CRC Reef Research Centre and the Agricultural Research Service of North Carolina State University. VL was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award and a CRC Reef Research Centre Postgraduate Scholarship, and supervised by Michelle Waycott, Scott Keogh and Helene Marsh. We thank Dr. Peter Doherty and the Australian Institute of Marine Science for generously providing in-kind ship-time on the R.V. Lady Basten for the 2001 surveys, and her crew for maximum assistance in the field. Max Allen, Ron Isbel, the Royal Australian Navy, the Queensland Lighthouse Service, Crawford Productions and the Belgian Expedition to the Great Barrier Reef are acknowledged for their assistance with transport and logistics on various trips. Peter Saenger, Ron and Valerie Taylor, Ben and Eva Cropp, Wally Muller, Tony Ayling, Emma Hutchinson, Sarah Lowe, Cathie Page, Rachael Pears and many generations of students from the University of New England assisted in the collection of data. We thank Courtney Long and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on this manuscript and Rosemary Dunn for editorial assistance.

Supplementary material

338_2006_192_MOESM1_ESM.doc (100 kb)
Table 1: Status of Aipysurus laevis and Emydocephalus annulatus on 90 reefs in the Pompey and Swain reefs complexes, southern Great Barrier Reef surveyed between 1967 and 2002, including current and prior zoning status. (DOC 100 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. Lukoschek
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • H. Heatwole
    • 3
    • 4
  • A. Grech
    • 3
  • G. Burns
    • 5
  • H. Marsh
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.CRC Reef Research CentreTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.School of Earth and Environmental ScienceJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  5. 5.Department of ZoologyThe University of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia

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