MEPS 181:81-96 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps181081

Gradients in coral reef fish density and size across the Barbados Marine Reserve boundary: effects of reserve protection and habitat characteristics

Matthew R. Chapman, Donald L. Kramer*

Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Docteur Penfield Ave., Montréal, Quebec H3A 1B1, Canada

ABSTRACT: Reductions in fishing mortality within no-take coral reef marine reserves can produce gradients in the density and size of fishes across reserve boundaries. Such gradients may be affected by other factors, however, including differences in habitat quality between reserve and non-reserve areas and the movement of fish across reserve boundaries. To examine the effects of protection from fishing mortality and of habitat quality on an assemblage of exploited reef fishes, we measured the spatial patterns of fish density and size on fringing reefs near the boundary of the Barbados Marine Reserve (Barbados, West Indies) and statistically controlled for habitat correlates of fish density and size. Reserve sites supported a higher total density and size of fishes than non-reserve sites. Most species had a non-significantly higher mean density and size at reserve sites. The density and/or size of many species were correlated with the depth, rugosity, and/or substrate composition of sites. After statistically controlling for the effects of habitat correlates, the difference in total density between reserve and non-reserve sites remained significant, and the mean density and size of most species remained non-significantly higher at reserve sites. Neither the mobility of species nor their vulnerability to capture by Antillean fish traps was correlated with their relative difference in density or size between reserve and non-reserve sites. Spearfishing target species had a significantly higher relative difference in size between reserve and non-reserve sites than non-target species. Protection from fishing mortality and higher habitat quality appear to contribute to the increased density and size of fishes on study reefs in the Barbados Marine Reserve, and this difference is not compromised by emigration from the reserve.

KEY WORDS: Marine protected area · Harvest refugia · Mobility · Spillover

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