John Cristiani, Emily Rubidge, Coreen Forbes, Ben Moore-Maley and Mary I. O’Connor. 2021. A biophysical model and network analysis of invertebrate community dispersal reveals regional patterns of seagrass habitat connectivity. Frontiers in Marine Science
The dispersal of marine organisms is a critical process for the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning across a seascape. Understanding the patterns of habitat connectivity that arise from the movement of multiple species can highlight the role of regional processes in maintaining local community structure. However, quantifying the probability and scale of dispersal for marine organisms remains a challenge. Here, we use a biophysical model to simulate dispersal, and we conduct a network analysis to predict connectivity patterns across scales for the community of invertebrates associated with seagrass habitat in British Columbia, Canada. We found many possible connections and few isolated habitat meadows, but the probability of most connections was low. Most habitat connections occurred within 3 days of dispersal time over short distances, indicating potential limits to long distance dispersal and little effect of species-specific dispersal abilities on the potential spatial extent of habitat connectivity. We then highlight the different roles that individual seagrass meadows can play in maintaining network connectivity. We also identify clusters of connected meadows and use these clusters to estimate the spatial scale of community dynamics. The connectivity patterns generated by our dispersal simulations highlight the importance of considering marine communities in their broad seascape context, with applications for the prioritization and conservation of habitat that maintains connectivity.