Ecological connectivity among British Columbia marine protected areas and the impacts of changing ocean temperatures

Ms Sarah Friesen1, Ms Emily Rubidge2,3, Ms Rebecca Martone4, Ms Karen Hunter5, Ms Natalie Ban1

1University Of Victoria, Victoria, Canada, 2Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sidney, Canada, 3University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, 4Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Province of British Columbia, Victoria, Canada, 5Pacific Biological Station, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Nanaimo, Canada

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are important conservation tools that can support the resilience of marine ecosystems, which are threatened by climate change. Many countries, including Canada, have committed to protecting at least 10% of their marine areas under the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Target 11, which includes connectivity as a key aspect. Connectivity, or the movement of individuals among habitats, can enhance population stability and resilience within and among MPAs. However, little is known about regional spatial patterns of marine ecological connectivity, particularly via adult movement, or how these patterns may be affected by climate change. Our objective was to understand how relative contributions of MPAs to network connectivity via adult movement shift with projected future ocean temperature changes within the Northern Shelf Bioregion in British Columbia, Canada. We applied least cost and circuit theory to model connectivity between MPAs, using three benthic model species with varying habitat, depth, and thermal preferences, as well as a range of adult movement distances. Our analysis evaluated individual MPAs with respect to their suitability for model species and vulnerability to temperature change in projected future oceanic conditions. We used centrality metrics to determine the relative importance of MPAs and movement pathways within the network. Comparing between contemporary and projected future connectivity patterns, we identified potential network vulnerabilities, plus areas that may be considered conservation priorities in the future. This study is an example of incorporating connectivity and climate change into MPA network design, with potential applications for other contexts.


Sarah Friesen is a Master of Science student in the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria. Her research is focused on incorporating population connectivity and climate change into marine conservation planning. Collaborating with a tri-governmental planning team, her findings are informing the implementation of new marine protected areas in British Columbia.

Species on the Move

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