Landscape Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 10, pp 1937–1948 | Cite as

Thresholds in seascape connectivity: influence of mobility, habitat distribution, and current strength on fish movement

  • Iain R. CaldwellEmail author
  • Sarah E. Gergel
Research Article


Assessing connectivity of the marine environment is a fundamental challenge for marine conservation and planning, yet conceptual development in habitat connectivity has been based on terrestrial examples rather than marine ecosystems. Here, we explore differences in marine environments that could affect localized movement of marine organisms and demonstrate the importance of incorporating them into seascape models. We link a fish-based cost surface model to simulated seascapes to test hypotheses about the effects of fish mobility, water current strength, and their interactions on functional connectivity of a seascape. Our models predict that sedentary fish should be more sensitive to habitat change than more mobile fish. Furthermore, highly mobile fish should be more sensitive to water currents than habitat change. In our models, the cost of swimming against a current (of any strength) exceeded its benefits, resulting in overall decreases in connectivity with increasing current strengths. We further hypothesized that thresholds in functional connectivity will be affected by both fish mobility and water current strength. Connectivity thresholds in the models occurred when 10–50 % of benthic habitat was favourable; below these thresholds there was a rapid increase in path cost. Thresholds were influenced by the interaction of relative habitat costs (simulated fish mobility) and habitat fragmentation: thresholds for less mobile fish (higher relative cost) were reached at lower habitat abundance when habitat was fragmented, while thresholds for mobile fish were less affected by fragmentation. Our approach suggests mobility and water current are useful indicators of connectivity in marine environments and should be incorporated in seascape models.


Habitat abundance Habitat loss Fragmentation Conservation Marine Landscape Damselfish 



This is a contribution from Project Seahorse. IRC was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, IODE Canada, and the Animal Behavior Society. SEG was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada Discovery Grant. Project Seahorse is supported by Guylian Chocolates (Belgium) and the John G. Shedd Aquarium, through partnerships in marine conservation. The manuscript was greatly improved by comments from A. Vincent, P. P. Molloy, A. R. E. Sinclair, I. Côté, and S. Hinch.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Project Seahorse, Fisheries CentreThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Forest Sciences, Centre for Applied Conservation ResearchThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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