Marine reserves can enhance ecological resilience

We developed a method to quantitatively estimate the ecological resilience (the magnitude of a perturbation that a community can withstand and remain in a given state) of groundfish communities and determine how this community property changes with environmental variability. I tested whether no-take marine reserves can increase ecological resilience compared to conventional fishery management using a dynamic model of a simplified rockfish community with structured predation and competition, where one state is dominated by a harvested large-bodied predator (e.g., yelloweye rockfish) and another state is dominated by an unfished small-bodied competitor (e.g., pygmy rockfish). Relative to conventional fishery management, I found that MPAs increased the resilience of the desired (predator-dominated) equilibrium state. My results also indicated that culling of competitors may be the most effective method for restoring systems degraded to the undesirable, competitor-dominated state.

Sebastes ruberrimus9 Victoria O'ConnellJuvenile yelloweye rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus) seeking shelter from predators.
Photo Credit: Victoria O’Connell

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdult yelloweye rockfish foraging for smaller rockfishes and other prey.
Photo Credit: Victoria O’Connell

Barnett, LAK, & ML Baskett. 2015. Marine reserves can enhance ecological resilience. Ecology Letters 18(12):1301–1310.

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