Evaluating the use of marine protected areas by endangered species: a habitat selection approach.

Published online
06 Apr 2021
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Ecological Solutions and Evidence

Roberts, K. E. & Smith, B. J. & Burkholder, D. & Hart, K.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
USA & Florida & Gulf of Mexico & Mexico


Optimizing the design of marine protected area (MPA) networks for the conservation of migratory marine species and their habitats involves a suite of important considerations, such as appropriate scale requirements and the distribution of anthropogenic impacts. Often, a fundamental component of the conservation planning process is delineating areas of high use or high biodiversity within a region of interest. However, basing conservation strategies off merely the number of individuals in an ecosystem is outdated and potentially subject to arbitrary thresholds. To be effective at protecting marine megafauna, MPAswould ideally encompass habitats used by focal species. Through satellite-tracking studies, evidence of whether species actually use protected areas is emerging. Here, we present a multispecies perspective on habitat selection within existing MPAs throughout the Floridian ecoregion, which encompasses coastal Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Using an 11-year satellite-tracking dataset on 235 marine turtles, we used integrated step selection analysis to quantify the effects of sea turtle behavioural state (identified by a switching state-space model), protected area status, chlorophyll and bathymetry on habitat selection. Our results show that sea turtles do select for existing protected areas, specifically multi-use zones, while controlling for the effects of depth and primary productivity. However, our analysis revealed that turtles showed no selection for the no-take zones within MPAs, during either transiting or foraging. 5. These findings contribute to the existing literature base ofMPAuse for highly mobile, imperilled species and could inform management of existing MPAs or changes to zoning, specifically multi-use to no-take. Our use of a robust spatial modelling framework to evaluate habitat selection relative toMPAs could be incorporated into conservation planning to build MPA networks designed to accommodate migratory species.

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