1

People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.

2

Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

3

Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Rebecca Weeks

Rebecca Weeks


Research Fellow


James Cook University



+61 7 4781 6134



Research Interests

My research explores how conservation planning concepts and tools can be applied to develop marine protected area networks in regions with community-based management. A central theme of my work is the importance of spatial scale in conservation planning; in particular the need to reconcile regional-sale planning with local-scale implementation in order to develop ecologically functional MPA networks that are supported by local resource users.

Scaling up and down: Resolving mismatches between spatial scales of social and ecological connectivity

Approaches to developing MPA networks in the Coral Triangle & Pacific have focussed on “scaling up” local initiatives to form systems that are more than the sums of their parts: social networks provide an incentive for communities to coordinate their actions across larger regions. However, the spatial scale at which social networks can be effective is often constrained, for example by the presence of customary marine tenure. To be ecologically effective, MPA networks must be large enough to encompass connectivity processes, such as larval dispersal. Consequently, the ability of social networking to act as a catalyst for the development of ecological MPA networks depends on the match or mismatch between spatial scales of social and ecological connectivity. Where the spatial scale at which ecological processes occur exceeds that of social connectivity, “scaling down” approaches to MPA network development, that take regional prioritisations or plans as a starting point, will be required. Through this research I will develop and test hypotheses about which approaches are most likely to be successful in different socio-ecological contexts, to inform where we should invest in regional planning oversight vs. bottom-up coordination.

Planning for connectivity

Ecological connectivity processes that should be considered in MPA network design span spatial scales of tens of metres to thousands of kilometres, and include daily home ranges of adult fish, spawning aggregations, ontogenetic habitat shifts, larval dispersal and migration of marine megafauna. Of the oft-cited ecological criteria for MPA network design, “connectivity” has been the most challenging to put into practice, largely due to a lack of understanding and empirical data on these processes. This is rapidly changing, with the application of new genetic and acoustic tagging methodologies.I am excited to be working with colleagues at JCU and from further afield to look at how we can use this new empirical data to test and improve upon rules of thumb for incorporating ecological connectivity in the design of MPA networks.

Adaptive conservation planning

For conservation planning to be effective, regional designs must be seen not as static products, but as starting points for ongoing refinement and adaptation. This is especially important in regions with community-based management, where implementation typically proceeds through a protracted application of management actions. Yet despite an increasing recognition of the need for conservation strategies to be adaptive, there remain few applied examples where this is occurring. My research explores the conceptual, operational, institutional, and policy implications of conservation designs being, or needing to be, dynamic. This includes identifying implementation strategies to move from regional design phases to local implementation.

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au