Doctoral Programme on Marine Ecosystem Health and Conservation
 The MARES Researchers and their Research
Biological valuation and connectivity assessments: tools to establish representative networks of Marine Protected Areas
PhD Code: MARES_12_14:
  • Host institute 1: P13 - University of Aveiro
  • Host institute 2: P1 - Ghent University
Research fields:
  • T6 - Habitat loss, urban development, coastal infrastructures and Marine Spatial Planning
  • Queiroga Henrique
  • Vincx Magda
Contact Person and email: Queiroga Henrique -

Subject description
The need to establish representative networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is enshrined into a number of international and regional conventions, such as the Convention of Biological Diversity, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, or the OSPAR and HELCOM Conventions. MPAs are considered to provide a buffer against acute and diffuse environmental disturbances, by protecting different levels of structural diversity (genes, species and habitats) and of ecological processes (biogeochemical cycles, trophic ebb flows, reproduction and population replenishment), and are a fundamental part of any Maritime Spatial Planning and Ecosystem Management approaches to the management and conservation of the marine environment.
Steps towards establishing representative networks of MPAs at eco-regional and sub-regional scales are still encumbered by methodological and logistic difficulties related to the operational definition of "representative" and to the collection of the necessary data to characterize any network as representative. One of the central concepts that is applied by recent reviews and background documents issued from the different Conventions is that networks of MPAs should be ecologically coherent (OSPAR 2007). The four main criteria used to characterize the degree of ecological coherence of networks of MPAs are adequacy, representativeness, replication and connectivity, but the data necessary to assess these are missing in most instances (Ardron 2008).
The present research topic concerns the scientific methodologies used to assess the representativeness and replication, on the one hand, and the connectivity, on the other, of networks of MPAs in coastal environments. These two issues are intimately related. Representativeness and replication refer to the presence within a MPA network of multiple instances of the range of species, habitats, landscapes and ecological processes, so that the natural variation is encompassed and the risk of damaging events is spatially spread. Connectivity means that the network should contain the opportunity for dispersal and migration of species between habitat patches or between local populations. Representativeness and replication therefore need to describe the spatial scope of the different features and the way they interact (i. e., connect) with each other, while connectivity needs to define the features that are connected.
Focus area
This research topic will focus on two Portuguese MPAs, the Reserva Natural das Berlengas ( and the Parque Natural da Arrábida ( These two MPAs are located in a central region of the Portuguese coast dominated by rocky shores and cliffs. This central region is separated by long (>100 km) sandy shores from northern and southern stretches of coast again dominated by rocky shores, providing a convenient set-up to examine connectivity and representativeness. The MPAs are located in areas with contrasting oceanography. The Berlengas are a coastal archipelago exposed to a typical upwelling/downwelling regime and are recurrently affected by the upwelling filament associated with Cape Carvoeiro. The Arrábida constitutes the north rim of the Setúbal bay and is shadowed from upwelling.
The representativeness and replication component will be analyzed using the marine biological valuation (MBV) methodology.  MBV integrates available biological information on a study area into one indicator of intrinsic value of marine biodiversity, without reference to anthropogenic use. It can be used in every marine environment, independent of the amount and quality of the available biological data or the habitat type. MBV allocates an integrated intrinsic biological value to the subzones within any marine study area (Derous et al 2007a) after going through a process of assessment questions, mathematical algorithms and queries (Derous et al 2007b). By mapping these values a biological valuation map is created, which is the required outcome of biological valuation. Information to build biological valuation maps will be obtained from literature data on the following ecosystem components: macroalgae, macrobenthos, demersal fish, seabirds and cetaceans.
The connectivity component will be conducted in association with the LarvalSources research project. LarvalSources will use Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry, coupled to a Laser Ablation system, to collect geochemical fingerprints imprinted in the primordia of shells (Becker et al 2007) and otoliths (Barbee et al 2007) of the mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis and of the blennid fish Lipophrys pholis, in order to investigate the spatial distribution of larval sources. The two biological models provide contrasting life-history traits in terms of reproductive mode and behavioral control of larval movements, which are representative of a broad range or marine animals and are expected to affect larval dispersal differently.
The information on connectivity for the mussel, which is subjected to an informal but intense fishery, together with estimates of standing stock, fertility, growth and mortality, will be used to build a decision model to assess the role of the MPAs on population resilience under different anthropogenic perturbations (White et al 2010). This last component is based on recent theoretical results that indicate that resilience of metapopulations is dependent on the strength of the connectivity pathways (Hastings and Botsford 2006).
  • Ardron JA (2008) Three initial OSPAR tests of ecological coherence: heuristics in a data-limited situation. ICES Journal of Marine Science 65, 1527–1533
  • Barbee NC, Swearer SE (2007) Characterizing natal source population signatures in the diadromous fish Galaxias maculatus, using embryonic otolith chemistry. Marine Ecology Progress Series 343, 273-282
  • Becker BJ, Levin LA, Fodrie FJ, Mcmillan PA (2007) Complex larval connectivity patterns among marine invertebrate populations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104: 3267-3272
  • Cowen RK, Lwiza KMM, Sponaugle S, Paris CB, Olson DB (2000) Connectivity of marine populations: open or closed? Science 287, 857-859
  • Derous S, Austen M, Claus S and collaborators (2007a) Building on the concept of marine biological valuation with respect to translating it to a practical protocol: viewpoints derived from a joint ENCORA–MARBEF initiative. Oceanologia 49(4), 1-8
  • Derous S, Agardy T, Hillewaert H and collaborators (2007b) A concept for biological valuation in the marine environment. Oceanologia 49(1), 99-128
  • Hastings A, Botsford LW (2006) Persistence of spatial populations depends on returning home. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103: 6067-6072
  • OSPAR (2007) Background document to support the assessment of whether the ospar network of marine protected areas is ecologically coherent. OSPAR Biodiversity Series, 320
  • Ramírez I, Geraldes P, Meirinho A, Paiva V (2008) Áreas marinhas importantes para aves em Portugal. Sociedade Poertuguesa para o Estudo das Aves, Lisboa.
  • Rodrigues N, Maranhão P, Oliveira, P, Alberto J (2008) Guia de espécies submarinas; Portugal – Berlengas. Livraria Civilização Editora, Lisboa.
  • White JW, Botsford LW, Moffitt EA, Fischer DT (2010) Decision analysis for designing marine protected areas for multiple species with uncertain fishery status. Ecological Applications 20: 1523-1541
Employment Details
Candidates will be employed by the University of Aveiro under a "Researcher" contract, for a 3-year period. The gross monthly salary will be approximately 1800 €, subjected to legal taxes.

Expected outcomes
The proposed research will use the environmental set-up of the Portuguese coast to examine different applied and fundamental research questions that are relevant for the management of the Portuguese system of MPAs, for the design of networks of MPAs in general, and for the understanding of the drivers and patterns of connectivity.
The application of the MBV methodology aims at producing a biological valuation map for the Portuguese continental shelf, in order to identify diversity hotspots and assess whether the Berlengas and Arrábida MPAs are representative of these hotspots. Although generally accepted that these areas have very high biological value for a variety of ecosystem components (eg. Ramírez et al 2008, Rodrigues et al 2008, Brito et al 2009) the designation as protected areas was based on opportunistic criteria and expert opinion, rather than on a systematic, spatially explicit process. This analysis will enable an assessment of how these MPAs contribute to the ecological coherence of the network, to identify possible gaps and serve as a baseline for future marine spatial planning.
A very large proportion of marine species, including many commercially important ones, have a bi-phasic life cycle where a planktonic larval phase precedes benthic, sedentary juveniles and adults. In these species, the larva is the dispersal phase. A main question regarding connectivity is whether the degree of oceanographic "openness" does affect connectivity patterns and source-sink dynamics in marine populations and protected areas (Cowen 2000). In this case, it is expected that the Arrábida would show greater retention, because it is located in a bay and shadowed from upwelling, than in the Berlengas, which are recurrently affected by an upwelling filament probably enhancing offshore wastage of larvae. This would reflect in the respective capacity for supplying recruits to impacted areas and in different roles within the network.
The role of the MPAs on the dynamics of the mussel populations will additionally be investigated by producing costbenefit curves as a function of management rules, outside and inside MPAs, and of total protected area inside MPAs. To explore the potential effect of different management scenarios outside the MPAs (no fishing, fishing at maximum sustained yield, overfishing) different values of spawning biomass outside the MPAs will be used. A decision-analysis algorithm will then allow weighting the costs and benefits of the different management scenarios. Scenarios of expanding the network of MPAs (and of abolishing them) or of acute perturbations (eg. oil spills) will also be explored in order to understand the role of MPAs in the resilience of the population.
By linking the information on biological value, especially regarding the macrobenthos component, to population connectivity of model species, new insights on the role of the MPAs on the protection of marine biodiversity in Portugal may be achieved. The findings will be transmitted to the Instituto de Conservação da Natureza e Florestas, who is responsible for the management of MPAs in continental Portugal, and to other partners involved in marine spatial planning in Portugal.

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