Genomic insights into ecological connectivity in the Kimberley

WAMSI Kimberley Research Program scientists, Dr Oliver Berry (CSIRO), Dr Jim Underwood (AIMS) and Dr Kathryn McMahon (ECU) presented their findings at the Department of Parks and Wildlife on a study looking into the movements of animals and plants among Kimberley reefs.

The research, part of a larger collaboration involving CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Department of Fisheries, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University and the WA Museum, investigated seven organisms that represent common species (two hard corals, two seagrasses, a mollusc and two fishes) to infer the routine distances of dispersal and patterns of connectivity among key populations within the Kimberley.

CSIRO researcher Dr Oliver Berry explained the team looked at fine scale and broad scale patterns, including movements between the Kimberley and other regions such as the Pilbara, using genomics to investigate connectivity.

“Many marine organisms are transported a long way by ocean currents when they are microscopic plankton,” Dr Berry said. “Their movements are hard to track and so we use genomics to measure the relatedness of organisms on different reefs, and from this we can indirectly estimate how far they have moved.”

From this research the team uncovered the location of barriers, important stepping stones and transitional zones for a number of the species investigated. The findings provide important information for the design of marine protected area networks in the Kimberley and the management of commercial fish stocks such as the Trochus.

“It has been very satisfying and exciting to work together as a team to synthesis our new knowledge on the genetic connectivity of marine organisms in the Kimberley,” co-researcher ECU’s Dr Kathyn McMahon said. “I look forward to seeing this information incorporated into future management and conservation of this special region.”

A copy of the presentation given by the team on 15 August 2016 and a project summary is available at


The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government’s Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley.


Kimberley Marine Research Program