In Focus: Stephen Warr, PhD Researcher

"Determining patterns of larval dispersal, or connectivity, has profound implications for the survival of marine metapopulations at the brink of extinction’."

− Stephen Warr

Marine biodiversity | Conservation biology | Metapopulation

Conservation cannot successfully happen in a bubble of well-meaning but isolated projects. Flora and fauna have a habit of wandering beyond the boundaries we set to manage the protection of species. Sometimes they simply up and move; walk, slither or cast their seeds far afield. Understanding how this process works means that researchers can better grasp how biodiversity can be encouraged to sustain.

Stephen Warr’s work will engage with this exploration taking the Mediterranean Ribbed Limpet, (Patella ferruginea, Gmelin 1791), as his focus. An endemic mollusc of the Western Mediterranean it is threatened with extinction and highly protected under the EU’s Habitats Directive, Berne and Barcelona Conventions. This makes conservation efforts an exemplary case study for the protection of species and habitats in the wider Mediterranean.

Stephen’s thirst to undertake a doctoral journey with the University of Gibraltar is the logical next step for someone who found their passion at undergraduate level with a degree in Environmental Science. This led naturally to a Masters in Environmental Management, a clear precursor for research at this granular level, delivering data that can be scaled up to inform our broader understanding of the marine environment around Gibraltar.

Stephen identifies the driver for his doctoral research as it can contribute to a global body of work: ‘Understanding how species disperse in the marine environment continues to be a central research theme in conservation biology. Determining patterns of larval dispersal, or connectivity, has profound implications for the survival of marine metapopulations at the brink of extinction’.

From this focused research then, comes data with a much wider reach. ‘This knowledge can help inform the design of well-connected Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks; an essential tool to conserve marine biodiversity in the face of altered seascapes as recognised by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Factors such as the location, size, spacing and configuration of MPA networks need to be considered’.

Key will be that he has chosen a model species to investigate how connectivity and metapopulation dynamics can help guide the design and optimisation of a Micro-MPA Network in the Straits of Gibraltar and Western Alboran Sea, two of the main strongholds for the species. Truly a legacy for the future that, with his work, will hopefully see the humble Mediterranean Ribbed Limpet survive the shifting marine landscape.

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