MEPS 189:125-134 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps189125

Changes in community structure in temperate marine reserves

Russell C. Babcock*, Shane Kelly, Nick T. Shears, Jarrod W. Walker, Trevor J. Willis

Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland, PO Box 349, Warkworth, New Zealand

ABSTRACT: 'No-take' marine reserves provide a valuable tool for managing marine resources as well as for providing relatively undisturbed habitat with which to assess modifications to ecosystems. We studied 2 marine reserves in northeastern New Zealand, the Leigh Marine Reserve (established 1975) and Tawharanui Marine Park (established 1982) in order to assess whether changes in protected predator populations had resulted in other indirect changes to grazers and consequently to algal abundance. Estimates of abundance of the most common demersal predatory fish Pagrus auratus indicated that adults of this species (i.e. large enough to prey upon urchins) were at least 5.75 and 8.70 times more abundant inside reserves than in adjacent unprotected areas. Overall, P. auratus were also much larger inside reserves with mean total lengths of 316 mm compared with 186 mm in fished areas. The spiny lobster Jasus edwardsii displayed similar trends, and was approximately 1.6 to 3.7 times more abundant inside the reserves than outside. Lobsters within the reserves had a mean carapace length of 109.9 mm, compared with 93.5 mm outside the reserves. In one of the reserves, densities of the sea urchin Evechinus chloroticus had declined from 4.9 to 1.4 m-2 since 1978 in areas formerly dominated by it. Consequently, kelp forests were more extensive in 1998 than they were at the time of reserve creation. Urchin-dominated barrens occupied only 14% of available reef substratum in reserves as opposed to 40% in unprotected areas. These changes in community structure, which have persisted since at least 1994, demonstrate not only higher trophic complexity than anticipated in Australasian ecosystems but also increased primary and secondary productivity in marine reserves as a consequence of protection. Trends inside reserves indicate large-scale reduction of benthic primary production as an indirect result of fishing activity in unprotected areas.

KEY WORDS: Marine reserves · Habitat change · Trophic structure · Fishing effects · Urchins · Kelp · Fish · Spiny lobsters

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