An international team of conservation scientists has developed an innovative software program to improve protections for wildlife as they roam on land and at sea.

The researchers from Canada, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom today (Feb. 12) released Marxan Connect, a new software interface that includes animal movement in the planning of the global network of protected areas. The team says protected areas are more effective if they are connected to others because animals and their offspring move around.

“Marxan Connect allows conservation scientists and managers to include information on the movement and migration of animals among different areas — also known as connectivity — in their decisions,” says lead author Remi Daigle of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, who developed the software as part of a project funded by the Canadian Healthy Oceans Network II.

“They now can identify which of these areas are key to maintaining healthy connected ecosystems,” says Daigle, who is also an adjunct professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Protected areas, such as parks, wildlife areas or marine protected areas, are important to conserve biodiversity and provide habitat for threatened species.

Unfortunately, most of them have not been designed with connectivity in mind because of the complexity of the task.

The relative difference between the scenarios (positive values indicate planning units that were selected more often with the connectivity added). The “Rarely selected” planning units were selected five times or fewer in both cases. The “Always prioritized” planning units were above the 90% percentile for selection in both cases.

“Identifying and protecting important movement corridors allows animals to move through a landscape or seascape that may otherwise be shared with incompatible human activities,” says Anna Metaxas, a professor in the Department of Oceanography at Dalhousie.

“With limited resources and time for creating protected areas for biodiversity, we need to avoid designing protected areas that may be too small, too far apart or not in good locations for animals to move, find food and migrate,” says Dr. Maria Beger of the University of Leeds.

“Marxan Connect now makes it easier to design good protected area networks with the world’s most used conservation planning tool, Marxan.”

Ryan Stanley, a research scientist responsible for Marine Protected Area networks at DFO, says Marxan Connect provides an exciting opportunity to intuitively integrate connectivity into existing conservation and spatial planning exercises.

“Information and insight provided by this new approach will be invaluable for the continued development of the Canadian MPA network,” Stanley says.

Marxan Connect provides standardized tools and systematic workflows that are free and open source. It is available for download at

A peer-reviewed article describing the software is be published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.


Author Contacts:

Dr. Remi Daigle, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Halifax, N.S.; email: [email protected]

Dr. Anna Metaxas, Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S.; email: [email protected]

Dr. Maria Beger, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK; email: [email protected]

Institutional information:

Canadian Healthy Oceans Network II (CHONe II): CHONe II, a strategic partnership of Canadian university researchers and government scientists, brings together 39 researchers from universities and federal research labs from coast to coast in Canada. CHONe’s research explores the characteristics that define how Canada’s oceans will respond to management strategies such as networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), spatial closures, and restoration efforts. This project was sponsored by the NSERC Canadian Healthy Oceans Network and its Partners: Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and INREST (representing the Port of Sept-Îles and City of Sept-Îles, Quebec).

Dalhousie University: Dalhousie University is Atlantic Canada’s leading research-intensive university. Located in the heart of Halifax, Nova Scotia, with an Agricultural Campus in Truro/Bible Hill, Dalhousie is a truly national and international university, with more than half of the university’s 19,000-plus students coming from outside the province. Dal’s 6,000 faculty and staff foster a diverse, purpose-driven community, one that spans 13 faculties and conducts more than $168 million in research annually. Part of a cluster identified as one of the world’s top international centres in ocean research, the university proudly celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018.

University of Leeds: The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 38,000 students from more than 150 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University plays a significant role in the Turing, Rosalind Franklin and Royce Institutes. It is a top ten university for research and impact power in the UK, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, and is in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings 2020. The University was awarded a Gold rating by the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework in 2017, recognising its ‘consistently outstanding’ teaching and learning provision. Twenty-six of our academics have been awarded National Teaching Fellowships – more than any other institution in England, Northern Ireland and Wales – reflecting the excellence of our teaching.