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Project 4.8.1 - Resilience and connectivity

Project Leader and Host Organisation

Professor Terry Hughes, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies,
James Cook University

Project Description and Objectives

For detailed descriptions of the outputs for this project for Year 4 (2009/2010) of the MTSRF Research Programme, see the Annual Research Plan.

Understanding the scale of larval dispersal is a major challenge in marine ecology and it is clear that management of marine fishes, including by marine protected areas (MPAs), must incorporate the scales over which their populations are connected by larval dispersal. MPAs ('green zones') in the Great Barrier Reef promote the abundance, size and reproductive potential of exploited fishes within their boundaries, but an important question remains unanswered - do green zones provide a recruitment subsidy to exploited fish populations such as coral trout beyond their boundaries (blue zones), thereby promoting the resilience and sustainable exploitation of fish resources? 

This project will provide answers to the following questions critical to the assessment of the effectiveness of the Great Barrier Reef Zoning model:

  • What is the spatial scale of connectivity by larval fish dispersal within the Great Barrier Reef?

  • How much do green zones contribute to the recruitment of coral trout and other fish species in blue zones (via larval connectivity)?

  • To what extent are populations in green zones sustained by their own reproduction (via larval retention)?

  • Are particular areas especially important sources of larvae for blue zones?

  • Are particular areas sustained by retention or by dispersal?

Key objectives of Project 4.8.1 include:

  • Development and testing of realistic larval-fish dispersal models for the Great Barrier Reef; and

  • Development and testing of methods to ground-truth larval-fish dispersal models for the Great Barrier Reef.

Swimming with the big fish, studying the small

By Rebecca Hancock for Science Bytes, 16 March 2009

Visit the Australian Museum website for the full article


The challenges of studying larval fish.

Imaging trying to track in the open seas the migration of fishes that are only a few millimetres to a centimetre long, almost transparent and bearing little resemblance to adult forms.

It's a challenge that Dr Jeff Leis and his research team have met over the years by donning their diving gear and following larval fishes through the water, painstakingly observing them with the naked eye.  It is an essential part of Jeff's research to understand how and how far the fishes of the Great Barrier Reef disperse in the first weeks to months of their lives, during their 'pelagic larval stage'.

[Click on the link above to access the full article]

* Dr Leis' work is partly funded by the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility, Project 4.8.1.

Further Information

Dr David Souter
GBR Program Research Manager
Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited
Tel: (07) 4781 6013

Major Project Outputs

The Annual Research Plans, or ARPs, outline the specific tasks, products, budgets and staff for each research project within each of the Research Themes and Programs of the MTSRF.  The ARPs also outline the key deliverables, or 'project milestones' (e.g. major reports, journal articles, communications products) to be achieved.

An ARP is developed for each operating year of the MTSRF (2006-2010).

Details of this and previous years' outputs from this project are included in each of the Annual Research Plans

All Content © Reef & Rainforest Research Centre 2006