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Marine spatial planning and marine protected areas

Photo: Hans Kautsky/AzotePhoto: Hans Kautsky/Azote

Marine spatial planning and marine protected areas (MPAs) are tools to protect biodiversity, including genetic variation. Strategies for spatial planning and for designing MPAs depend on the population structure of the species in target.

One big metapopulation...
If individuals or propagules can migrate between populations, connectivity is high resulting in a metapopulation that share a common (large) gene pool. However, if disperal links between populations are broken and connectivity restricted, for example when a habitat becomes fragmented due to human activities, the result will be isolated, small populations and loss of genetic diversity.

... or several small populations
On the other hand, sometimes populations can be genetically unique with no or little contact with others. Such populations might have evolved adaptations to local conditions and are valuable for protection. In the Baltic, many species are locally adapted to the low salinity and due to low connectivity genetically distinct from populations in the North Sea.

General recommendations

  • Each population needs to be protected at a size large enough to prevent loss of genetic variation, due to inbreeding and random drift. Thus, larger MPAs are generally better than smaller.
  • Habitats should not be so fragmented that existing connectivity (=genetic exchange through migration) among populations is at risk. If populations become too isolated this can result in rapid loss of genetic diversity.
  • Oceanographic and biophysical modelling can be used to optimize the spatial distribution of marine protected areas.
  • MPAs can be used to protect locally adapted populations with unique genes that can aid a species range shift in response to climate change.
  • Assure that goals on genetic diversity of international and national policy documents are reflected in regional guidelines for MPA management.
  • MPAs and the management plans governing them should be monitored, evaluated, and revised on a regular basis (e.g., every fifth year).


Management units

Species are structured into populations that are more or less genetically separated and unique. This structure is important information for management.


The importance of connectivity

Connectivity is the extent to which populations in different parts of a species range are linked by the movement of eggs, larvae or other propagules. This movement is important information for marine spatial planning.


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