MEPS 384:33-46 (2009)  -  doi:10.3354/meps08029

Biological effects within no-take marine reserves: a global synthesis

Sarah E. Lester1,*, Benjamin S. Halpern2, Kirsten Grorud-Colvert3, Jane Lubchenco3, Benjamin I. Ruttenberg4, Steven D. Gaines5, Satie Airamé1, Robert R. Warner5

1Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106-6150, USA
2National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 735 State Street, Suite 300, Santa Barbara, California 93101, USA
3Department of Zoology, 3029 Cordley Hall, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331-2914, USA
4National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, 75 Virginia Beach Drive, Miami, Florida 33149, USA
5Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology and Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106-9610, USA

ABSTRACT: The study and implementation of no-take marine reserves have increased rapidly over the past decade, providing ample data on the biological effects of reserve protection for a wide range of geographic locations and organisms. The plethora of new studies affords the opportunity to re-evaluate previous findings and address formerly unanswered questions with extensive data syntheses. Our results show, on average, positive effects of reserve protection on the biomass, numerical density, species richness, and size of organisms within their boundaries which are remarkably similar to those of past syntheses despite a near doubling of data. New analyses indicate that (1) these results do not appear to be an artifact of reserves being sited in better locations; (2) results do not appear to be driven by displaced fishing effort outside of reserves; (3) contrary to often-made assertions, reserves have similar if not greater positive effects in temperate settings, at least for reef ecosystems; (4) even small reserves can produce significant biological responses irrespective of latitude, although more data are needed to test whether reserve effects scale with reserve size; and (5) effects of reserves vary for different taxonomic groups and for taxa with various characteristics, and not all species increase in response to reserve protection. There is considerable variation in the responses documented across all the reserves in our data set—variability which cannot be entirely explained by which species were studied. We suggest that reserve characteristics and context, particularly the intensity of fishing outside the reserve and inside the reserve before implementation, play key roles in determining the direction and magnitude of the reserve response. However, despite considerable variability, positive responses are far more common than no differences or negative responses, validating the potential for well designed and enforced reserves to serve as globally important conservation and management tools.


KEY WORDS: Marine reserves · Temperate · Tropical · Fishes · Invertebrates · Algae · Marine Protected Area · Conservation


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Cite this article as: Lester SE, Halpern BS, Grorud-Colvert K, Lubchenco J and others (2009) Biological effects within no-take marine reserves: a global synthesis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 384:33-46

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