Project number: 2010-506
Project Status:
Budget expenditure: $330,000.00
Principal Investigator: Neville Barrett
Organisation: University of Tasmania (UTAS)
Project start/end date: 31 Dec 2010 - 30 Dec 2013


Waters along Australia’s most densely populated east coast are warming at 3.8 times the global average rate, which is the most rapid change in the Southern Hemisphere. Ecosystems in this region are likely to be severely impacted by climate change and significant biodiversity change is expected. The rapid nature of these ecosystem changes will require science-based decisions about where, how and when to apply adaptive management interventions. Predictive models have high uncertainty when extrapolated into new conditions, as do CC scenario models. Unless protocols for tracking and predicting ecological changes are well informed, the remote nature of marine habitats, with associated difficulties and expense when mapping biodiversity assets, will inevitably translate to sub-optimal management interventions. Potential management interventions could include targeted spatial closures to protect vulnerable habitats, targeted translocation of key predators, direct manipulation of abundances of threatening and or threatened species.Our project will address these challenges using Australia’s east coast as it is the region of greatest change and hence under the most imminent threat. Using the longest available worldwide (18-yr) ecological reef data record of fishes, invertebrates and macro-algae in marine reserves, we will identify thresholds in ecological responses such as significant assemblage shifts, kelp decline and predator-prey relationships. These outputs combined with future climate scenarios will empower, state management and NRM agencies with mproved capacity to build ecosystem resilience through spatial management actions. The project addresses three NCCARP priority questions by: (3.1) identifying priority ecosystems and species most vulnerable in this globally significant warming hotspot; (2.1) identifying vulnerable inshore reef species of commercial fisheries importance (including southern rock lobster, abalone, and temperate wrasses) and priority locations for adaptive management; and (3.2) clarifying management benefits from one intervention strategy – MPAs – for enhancing resilience of temperate ecosystems.


1. To collate and analyse the long-term marine ecological data records for southeast Australian reefs and use these to quantitatively describe relationships between species’ distribution and abundance and changes in ocean temperature, salinity and EAC position as key drivers of climate change
2. To identify optimal locations and species for monitoring programs (including Reef Life Survey – a cost-effective, ecological monitoring program using trained recreational divers – and comparable agency-based programs) to best inform adaptive management via delivery of up-to-date relevant information
3. To assess the costs and benefits of existing temperate Marine Protected Areas for biodiversity-conservation management in response to CC and evaluate the robustness of adaptive management frameworks given uncertainty in predictions
4. To develop models that quantify and predict the impacts of climate change on inshore reef communities of fishes, invertebrates and macroalgae across the southeast Australian region so that potential responses to change can be identified, considered and developed appropriately.

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