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PLoS One. 2009;4(1):e4140. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004140. Epub 2009 Jan 8.

Rapid effects of marine reserves via larval dispersal.

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  • 1School of Natural Resources, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, United States of America. cud@ag.arizona.edu

Abstract

Marine reserves have been advocated worldwide as conservation and fishery management tools. It is argued that they can protect ecosystems and also benefit fisheries via density-dependent spillover of adults and enhanced larval dispersal into fishing areas. However, while evidence has shown that marine reserves can meet conservation targets, their effects on fisheries are less understood. In particular, the basic question of if and over what temporal and spatial scales reserves can benefit fished populations via larval dispersal remains unanswered. We tested predictions of a larval transport model for a marine reserve network in the Gulf of California, Mexico, via field oceanography and repeated density counts of recently settled juvenile commercial mollusks before and after reserve establishment. We show that local retention of larvae within a reserve network can take place with enhanced, but spatially-explicit, recruitment to local fisheries. Enhancement occurred rapidly (2 yrs), with up to a three-fold increase in density of juveniles found in fished areas at the downstream edge of the reserve network, but other fishing areas within the network were unaffected. These findings were consistent with our model predictions. Our findings underscore the potential benefits of protecting larval sources and show that enhancement in recruitment can be manifested rapidly. However, benefits can be markedly variable within a local seascape. Hence, effects of marine reserve networks, positive or negative, may be overlooked when only focusing on overall responses and not considering finer spatially-explicit responses within a reserve network and its adjacent fishing grounds. Our results therefore call for future research on marine reserves that addresses this variability in order to help frame appropriate scenarios for the spatial management scales of interest.

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