Multiple stressors threaten coral reefs globally, causing severe declines of biodiversity and detrimental changes in the provision of associated ecosystem services. To counteract the ongoing biodiversity loss, systematic conservation planning provides a powerful framework to foster conservation and optimise allocation of conservation resources. However, conservation planning in the marine realm has focused mostly on representation of static elements of biodiversity within a system of marine protected areas (MPAs). The general failure of conservation planning to directly address persistence might impair the effectiveness of conservation plans. To ensure the efficacy of MPAs for future benefit, conservation planning must be capable of addressing ecological processes amenable to spatial management and mitigating threats to the long-term maintenance of biodiversity.
The overarching objective of my thesis is to enhance the procedures by which conservation features related to processes - those both promoting and threatening the persistence of biodiversity - can be incorporated into MPA design. To enhance this integration, I focus on two influences on biological persistence, which are particularly important for fostering coral-reef conservation, but not yet well developed and interpreted in terms of conservation planning: connectivity and climate warming. By using Brazilian coral reefs as a case study, I developed methodological approaches to MPA network design that improve upon previous approaches to marine conservation for persistence in several ways: (i) by demonstrating how to formulate conservation objectives to specifically address connectivity and climate warming (Chapters 2-5); (ii) by interpreting and combining modelling tools with MPA network design that help make conservation planning more effective in addressing processes (Chapters 4 and 5); and (iii) by showing the value of setting these conservation objectives from the outset of planning (Chapter 6).
I first quantified the spatial extent of Brazilian MPAs to protect coral reefs and investigated their spatial and geographic attributes (Chapter 2). Based on the bias in the distribution of MPAs, my study highlights that a systematic expansion of MPAs in Brazil is urgently needed to move toward an ecologically representative and functioning MPA system. Because I interpreted principles of connectivity and climate warming through generic design criteria, I next investigated more specific and tailored recommendations to formulate better conservation requirements for persistence (Chapter 3). By reviewing the conservation literature, I outlined a framework for setting marine conservation planning objectives. The framework describes six key approaches to more effectively integrating connectivity and climate warming into conservation plans, aligning opportunities and minimizing trade-offs between both goals. (...)