The goal of this project is to develop a tractable modeling framework for estimating marine metapopulation connectivity and its demographic consequences. This will be achieved using a multifaceted approach which draws upon gravity, demographic, and biological/hydrodynamic coupled models. The objectives are to: (1) Determine reliable predictors of population connectivity from a range of habitat and oceanographic metrics that influence larval dispersal and settlement. The predictive ability of these metrics will be assessed through the development of gravity models which incorporate both natal and settlement site attributes as well as "distance" functions derived from habitat distributions and biological-hydrodynamic coupled models which describe how dispersal probability declines with travel time. (2) Evaluate the robustness of these predictors and different forms of the gravity model at various temporal and spatial scales to examine their suitability for a range of marine metapopulations. (3) Develop matrix metapopulation models to improve understanding of how physical oceanographic processes and dispersal behavior influence the dynamics and spatial connectivity of marine metapopulations. Extensive research of spatial recruitment patterns across a no-take marine reserve network in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea, will provide the empirical data to develop and evaluate a modeling framework for estimating metapopulation connectivity in marine communities where direct estimation of larval dispersal and settlement patterns remains intangible. These efforts will be guided by DNA parentage and trans-generational isotope labeling research of two coral reef fishes with different life histories and habitat usage. These datasets represent the most spatially expansive analysis of recruitment patterns to date and will allow evaluation of modeling approaches across multiple spatial and temporal scales to create a general modeling framework which is both empirically relevant and adaptable to other marine metapopulations with less a priori knowledge of population connectivity.
Estimating population connectivity and evaluating its drivers and demographic consequences is vital to comprehending how species will respond to habitat loss, climate change and shifting oceanographic processes, as well as various spatial management efforts. In addition to providing benefits to understanding the drivers of coral reef fish population connectivity in Kimbe Bay and guidance for the management of tropical and temperate reef fish metapopulations, the results of this project will provide a framework for identifying key field measurements to target. This study will develop ways to incorporate emerging developments in DNA parentage and isotope labeling analyses, draw upon current approaches for predicting population connectivity based on habitat distribution and biophysical coupled models, and provide critical and timely demographic information. This project will support a graduate student whose dissertation research will be an integral part of this study. It will also include the participation of several summer undergraduate research fellows. As the project is highly relevant to marine conservation and management, research findings will be disseminated at meetings with international collaborators, presentations at scientific conferences, through graduate courses, and the development of a project website. All investigators have shared their expertise with a variety of agencies responsible for resource management and conservation. By generating practical tools which advance the ability to estimate population connectivity and evaluate metapopulation dynamics, the results of this project will be informative to the scientific community and improve much needed knowledge for the implementation of marine spatial planning.