The influence of life history attributes and fishing pressure on the efficacy of marine reserves

Leah R. Gerber, Peter M. Kareiva, Jordi Bascompte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Two key questions regarding "no-take" marine reserves are: (1) how effective are reserves likely to be, and (2) how does effectiveness vary with life history attributes and the relative size of reserves. To investigate these questions, we use a simple Ricker model that includes fishing, larval dispersal, and larval loss while in a planktonic pool, and that tracks protected and unprotected populations. We applied two different measures of reserve effectiveness to our simulation results. One metric was intended to reflect goals oriented towards conservation and the second was intended to reflect fishery enhancement goals. Both metrics compare the situation before reserves are established to after the reserve has been in place and a new equilibrium was reached. Yield effectiveness is defined as the total equilibrium annual harvest after reserves are established divided by the total annual harvest before reserves are established. Conservation effectiveness is defined as the average adult density inside the reserve divided by the average density in the same area prior to reserve establishment. A substantial fraction of the 5120 simulated parameter combinations representing different harvest rates and life history attributes went extinct in the absence of a reserve, and these scenarios leading to extinction could be predicted accurately (85% aptly classified) simply on the basis of exploitation rate and population growth rate. Of the cases that did not go extinct, we compared the performance of reserves as measured by each effectiveness metric. Few of the cases (less than 8%) produced effective reserves as measured in terms of increased harvest; whereas over half of the cases resulted in effective reserves as measured by conservation effectiveness. Moreover, the two measures of reserve effectiveness were only weakly correlated. Simple linear regression or polynomial regression could explain at most 23% of the variation in reserve effectiveness as measured by either metric. As expected, the size of the reserve area had a marked and typically negative effect on total annual yield, which suggests that while marine protected areas may do a good job of conserving protected populations, there will generally be pressure from the fishing community to keep them small because of their tendency to reduce total catch.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-18
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Fishing pressure
  • Life history
  • Marine reserves
  • Reserve size
  • Ricker model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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