The multivariate exposure of Australia’s MPA network to climate change

Prof David Schoeman1, Miss Tanya van Wyk1, Dr Carme Piza Roca1, Prof Anthony Richardson1, Dr Kylie Scales1

1Global-Change Ecology Research Group, School of Science and Engineering, University Of The Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, Australia, 2Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Oceans and Atmosphere, BioSciences Precinct (QBP) & Centre for Applications in Natural Resource Mathematics, School of Mathematics and Physics, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia

In ocean systems, marine protected areas (MPAs) are the most common tools for alleviating multiple anthropogenic pressures. Because appropriately designed and well-managed MPAs have multiple benefits, they have become the focus of several international agreements. These, in turn, have underpinned a rapid escalation in the amount of area under legislative protection over the past 25 years. However, despite the significant economic and political capital invested in their designation, networks of MPAs have traditionally not accounted for climate change in their design. This raises important questions regarding the risks to MPA networks from climate change. But answering these questions at large scales is problematic because (i) there are multiple climate hazards (e.g., ocean warming, acidification, stratification, deoxygenation, etc.), (ii) each of these has multiple formulations (magnitude and rate of change, frequency of extremes, etc.), and (iii) the general paucity of physiological and ecological data for marine species means that vulnerability (sensitivity and adaptive capacity) are rarely known, even when species distributions can be quantified. We provide a potential solution by employing multivariate analysis to combine generic (i.e., not species-specific) metrics of climate-change exposure for each of several environmental variables across Australia’s EEZ for the past decade, and for the 2050s and the 2090s under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5. In so doing, we identify spatio-temporal patterns in multivariate climate-change exposure for Australia’s MPA network. This provides insights into how this network might be made more resilient to climate change, thereby contributing to the conservation of the nation’s biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.


Dave Schoeman is a quantitative marine ecologist and Professor of Global-Change Ecology at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. Specialising in climate-change ecology and marine conservation planning, Dave has worked in South Africa, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Australia, mainly on ecological responses to anthropogenic impacts in coastal waters. As a key member of a variety of collaborative research networks, Dave has delivered outputs ranging from high-impact global syntheses to local-scale marine conservation plans designed in consultation with marine resource users. At present, Dave is serving as Coordinating Lead Author on Chapter 3: Ocean and Coastal Ecosystems and their Services for WGII’s contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, and as Review Editor on the IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. In what remains of his time, Dave teaches ecological statistics and works on advancing the science associated with the velocity of climate change, and particularly how it is applied within marine spatial conservation planning.

Species on the Move

An International Conference Series

The conference brings together scientists and natural resource managers working in the disciplines of global change, biogeography and evolution, and relevant in contexts of natural resource management, biodiversity management and conservation, and theoretical ecology.

Species responses to climate change is a rapidly evolving research field, however, much of our progress is being made in independent research areas: e.g. understanding the process vs responding to the implications, terrestrial vs marine ecosystems, global meta-analyses vs in depth species-specific approaches. This interdisciplinary conference develops connections between these parallel streams, and across temporal and spatial scales.

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