Marine reserves stabilize fish populations and fisheries yields in disturbed coral reef systems

Hopf, Jess K., Jones, Geoffrey P., Williamson, David H., and Connolly, Sean R. (2019) Marine reserves stabilize fish populations and fisheries yields in disturbed coral reef systems. Ecological Applications, 29 (5). e01905.

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Marine reserve networks are increasingly implemented to conserve biodiversity and enhance the persistence and resilience of exploited species and ecosystems. However, the efficacy of marine reserve networks in frequently disturbed systems, such as coral reefs, has rarely been evaluated. Here we analyze a well-mixed larval pool model and a spatially explicit model based on a well-documented coral trout (Plectropomus spp.) metapopulation in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia, to determine the effects of marine reserve coverage and placement (in relation to larval connectivity and disturbance heterogeneity) on the temporal stability of fisheries yields and population biomass in environmentally disturbed systems. We show that marine reserves can contribute to stabilizing fishery yield while increasing metapopulation persistence, irrespective of whether reserves enhance or diminish average fishery yields. However, reserve placement and the level of larval connectivity among subpopulations were important factors affecting the stability and sustainability of fisheries and fish metapopulations. Protecting a mix of disturbed and non-disturbed reefs, rather than focusing on the least-disturbed habitats, was the most consistently beneficial approach across a range of dispersal and reserve coverage scenarios. Placing reserves only in non-disturbed areas was the most beneficial for biomass enhancement, but had variable results for fisheries and could potentially destabilize yields in systems with well-mixed larval or those that are moderately fished. We also found that focusing protection on highly disturbed areas could actually increase variability in yields and biomass, especially when degraded reef reserves were distant and poorly connected to the meta-population. Our findings have implications for the design and implementation of reserve networks in the presence of stochastic, patchy environmental disturbances.

Item ID: 61776
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1939-5582
Keywords: coral trout, environmental disturbance, fisheries management, larval connectivity, marine protected areas, marine reserves, metapopulations, reserve design, stochasticity, yield stability
Copyright Information: © 2019 by the Ecological Society of America.
Funders: Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy, Australian Research Council, James Cook University
Date Deposited: 12 Apr 2020 22:58
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410402 Environmental assessment and monitoring @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 100%
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