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Reconciling conflict between the direct and indirect effects of marine reserve protection


No-take marine reserves directly promote the recovery of predatory species, which can have negative indirect effects on prey populations in reserves. When harvesting also occurs on prey species there is potential conflict between the direct and indirect effects of protection, and reserves may not have conservation benefits for prey species. For example, sea urchins are fished in many regions, but may decline in reserves due to increased predation rates. To investigate this potential conflict, this paper compares density, size, biomass and reproductive potential of both a harvested and an unharvested urchin species between a long-term reserve and unprotected sites in California. Consistent with density-mediated indirect interactions, densities of the unharvested species were 3.4-times higher at unprotected sites compared to reserve sites. However, for the harvested species, densities were comparable between reserve and unprotected sites. Both species were consistently larger at reserve sites, and the biomass and reproductive potential of the harvested species was 4.8- and 7.0-times higher, respectively, than at unprotected sites. This is likely due to differences in size-selectivity between harvesting and predators, and potential compensatory effects of predators. While the generality of these effects needs to be tested, these results suggest mechanisms whereby reserves can benefit both predator and prey species.

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*Correspondence: Dr Nick Shears, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand e-mail:
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Environmental Conservation
  • ISSN: 0376-8929
  • EISSN: 1469-4387
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