Science Advisory Report  2012/083

Science Guidance on how to Achieve Representativity in the Design of Marine Protected Area Networks


  • This national science peer review process, based on international and domestic experience, focused on how to ensure consistency in the selection of the scale (level of subdivisions of a bioregion) at which representativity must be considered, and how a protected area or areas within an MPA network would be considered representative of a biogeographic unit within the bioregion.
  • To conclude a network is representative, three requirements must be met:
    1. an accepted biogeographic classification system to guide what biogeographic units of the bioregion are to be represented in the network to ensure the full range of ecosystems in the bioregion are captured;
    2. an accurate and informative map of the bioregion relative to that classification system to guide where to select areas so that they represent the intended biogeographic units; and
    3. a decision that the areas selected adequately represent the biogeographic units to guide how much of each biogeographic unit to include in the network.
  • The classification of bioregions into ecological units should strive to incorporate detailed knowledge of species distribution and abundance patterns as well as their interactions with their habitat and other species. In cases where these data are not available, geophysical and oceanographic factors may be used where there is reason to believe these factors can discriminate among habitat and community types. When biological data become available, they should be used to validate or adjust boundaries of the biogeographic unit(s).
  • Inshore areas are often significantly different than offshore areas due to differences in anthropogenic and naturally-induced pressures as well as differences in community structure. Due to such differences, it is recommended these environments be considered separately when selecting the appropriate scale for incorporating representativity in the MPA network.
  • Similarly, because the scale of ecological patterns and processes that should be represented in the network may be more finely resolved in benthic environments than in pelagic environments, ecological classifications for benthic and pelagic systems should include some analyses conducted separately for the two environments because important ecological aspects of the systems can be resolved at different scales.
  • Classification below a scale for which not enough data are available to create an accurate classification should be avoided. As long as sufficient data are available, the stopping rule for selecting the scale of subdivision at which to incorporate representativity within the network should be at the scale that most appropriately shows the patterns of community structure thought to be produced by the ecological functions characteristic of the bioregion.
  • Functions served by representative areas in a network include ecological functions (e.g., primary productivity, benthic community processes, piscivorous predation) and management and policy functions (insurance policy, benchmark, and seed stock functions).
  • For each of the ecological processes, there are often stable patterns that emerge at the scale of 10s to 1000s of square km, with piscivorous predation frequently showing stable patterns at the larger scales. Thus, if the spatial scale of the representative areas is adequate to address the spatial scales of feeding, spawning, and juvenile development of the key top predators and forage fish, then it can be assumed that the spatial scales are large enough to give protection to the other ecological processes, as well.
  • Requirements to ensure functions of representative areas are sustained include:
    1. stringent management insidethe representative MPA network with activities vulnerable to management failure excluded;
    2. representative areas need to be large enough to ensure the essential ecosystem structures and functional processes are sufficiently included within the MPA network so that pressures outside the MPA network do not impact these structures and functions inside the MPA network; and
    3. integrated management approaches are in place between protected areas of the network to protect ecological functions that occur at scales larger than can be adequately protected by individual MPAs.

This Science Advisory Report is from the national advisory meeting of October 2, 2012 on Guidance on “Representative” Marine Protected Areas for Network Planning. Additional publications from this process will be posted as they become available on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Science Advisory Schedule.

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