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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 12;8(4):e61207. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061207. Print 2013.

The role of pre-existing disturbances in the effect of marine reserves on coastal ecosystems: a modelling approach.

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  • 1Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Wealth from Oceans Flagship, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Marie.Savina-Rolland@csiro.au

Abstract

We have used an end-to-end ecosystem model to explore responses over 30 years to coastal no-take reserves covering up to 6% of the fifty thousand square kilometres of continental shelf and slope off the coast of New South Wales (Australia). The model is based on the Atlantis framework, which includes a deterministic, spatially resolved three-dimensional biophysical model that tracks nutrient flows through key biological groups, as well as extraction by a range of fisheries. The model results support previous empirical studies in finding clear benefits of reserves to top predators such as sharks and rays throughout the region, while also showing how many of their major prey groups (including commercial species) experienced significant declines. It was found that the net impact of marine reserves was dependent on the pre-existing levels of disturbance (i.e. fishing pressure), and to a lesser extent on the size of the marine reserves. The high fishing scenario resulted in a strongly perturbed system, where the introduction of marine reserves had clear and mostly direct effects on biomass and functional biodiversity. However, under the lower fishing pressure scenario, the introduction of marine reserves caused both direct positive effects, mainly on shark groups, and indirect negative effects through trophic cascades. Our study illustrates the need to carefully align the design and implementation of marine reserves with policy and management objectives. Trade-offs may exist not only between fisheries and conservation objectives, but also among conservation objectives.

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