Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
REVIEW

Human impacts on connectivity in marine and freshwater ecosystems assessed using graph theory: a review

Megan I. Saunders A J , Christopher J. Brown A , Melissa M. Foley B H , Catherine M. Febria C , Rebecca Albright D I , Molly G. Mehling E , Maria T. Kavanaugh F and Dana D. Burfeind G

A The Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia;

B Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University, Monterey, CA 93940, USA.

C School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury – Te Whare Wnanga o Waitaha, Christchurch, 4800, New Zealand.

D Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville MC, Townsville, Qld 4810, Australia.

E Falk School of Sustainability, 1 Woodland Road, Chatham University, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, USA.

F Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02540, USA.

G The School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia.

H Present address: United States Geological Survey, Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA.

I Present address: Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, 260 Panama Street, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.

J Corresponding author. Email: m.saunders1@uq.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 67(3) 277-290 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF14358
Submitted: 11 November 2014  Accepted: 20 February 2015   Published: 6 July 2015

Abstract

Human activities are altering the processes that connect organisms within and among habitats and populations in marine and freshwater (aquatic) ecosystems. Connectivity can be quantified using graph theory, where habitats or populations are represented by ‘nodes’ and dispersal is represented by ‘links’. This approach spans discipline and systemic divides, facilitating identification of generalities in human impacts. We conducted a review of studies that have used graph theory to quantify spatial functional connectivity in aquatic ecosystems. The search identified 42 studies published in 2000–14. We assessed whether each study quantified the impacts of (1) habitat alteration (loss, alteration to links, and gain), (2) human movements causing species introductions, (3) overharvesting and (4) climate change (warming temperatures, altered circulation or hydrology, sea-level rise) and ocean acidification. In freshwater systems habitat alteration was the most commonly studied stressor, whereas in marine systems overharvesting, in terms of larval dispersal among protected areas, was most commonly addressed. Few studies have directly assessed effects of climate change, suggesting an important area of future research. Graph representations of connectivity revealed similarities across different impacts and systems, suggesting common strategies for conservation management. We suggest future research directions for studies of aquatic connectivity to inform conservation management of aquatic ecosystems.

Additional keywords: anthropogenic stressors, aquatic ecosystems, ecological networks, functional connectivity, landscape connectivity, metapopulation dynamics.


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