Introduction: Program 2

Chagos Reef Crest recovery 2006

Program 2: Understanding and Managing Coral Reef Biodiversity

Program Leader: Professor Sean Connolly

Biodiversity is widely recognised as a critical factor for the maintenance of robust ecosystems. However, the mechanisms and processes that maintain local and global biodiversity are poorly understood. broad programs are as follows:

  • Understanding patterns of coral reef biodiversity: Using a combination of mathematical modeling, field studies, and phylogenetic analyses, Centre members are conducting a series of ambitious initiatives to better understand how biodiversity is generated and maintained. Our current studies in Australia and the Pacific will be expanded to the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean to provide an understanding of processes operating at both local and global scales.
  • Consequences of changing biodiversity: The management and successful long-term exploitation of reef resources depends critically on effective use of biodiversity. Building on a series of recent papers in Science and Nature, we are developing a new analytical framework for examining the consequences of changing biodiversity in marine ecosystems. Our aim is to quantify the relationships between biodiversity, community structure, and ecosystem function in reef systems.
  • Management of coral reef biodiversity: Many critical management issues are broad-scale phenomena (e.g. depleted fish stocks, habitat fragmentation, global warming) that cannot be fully understood at the small scales favoured by most ecologists. We are applying innovative approaches to “scaling up” ecological studies, making them more relevant for managing sustainable resources. With knowledge of the mechanisms operating at regional to global scales, restoration and effective maintenance of biodiversity across national borders is an achievable goal. Knowledge-based management of biodiversity that takes better account of the diversity of ecological roles played by coral reef species will result in environmental, social and economic benefit to Australia and other tropical maritime nations.
  • Marine reserves and fisheries management: This new sub-program beginning in 2006 is highly relevant for assessing the effectiveness of recent rezoning on the GBR Marine Park, and for management of artisanal fisheries in neighbouring developing nations.
  • Optimal design of reserves for management of ecological resilience: Over-fishing and declining water-quality can result in destructive algal blooms and a loss of ecological resilience. Through a combination of innovative large-scale field experiments, functional group analyses, and mathematical modeling centre staff are providing new insights into the processes involved in undesirable phase-shifts, and how they can be controlled and managed.
  • Larval biology, connectivity, and endemism: Centre members are world-leaders in developing technologies (e.g. genetic markers, biochemical tags, geochemical signatures) for directly measuring larval dispersal distances. Biodiversity hotspots and centers of endemism (where species with small geographic ranges are prevalent) are commonly targeted as priority areas for management. This sub-program uses new technology to quantify interchange between protected and unprotected areas, examine barriers to dispersal, and the mechanisms that determine the extent of geographic ranges.

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