Impact of marine protected areas on temporal stability of fish species diversity
Reference: Conservation Biology (2021): doi: 10.1111/cobi.13815

Preserving biodiversity over time is a pressing challenge for conservation science. A key goal of marine protected areas (MPAs) is to maintain stability in species composition, via reduced turnover, to support ecosystem function. Yet, this stability is rarely measured directly under different levels of protection. Rather, evaluations of MPA efficacy generally consist of static measures of abundance, species richness, and biomass, and rare measures of turnover are limited to short-term studies involving pairwise (beta diversity) comparisons. Zeta diversity is a recently developed metric of turnover that allows for measurement of compositional similarity across multiple assemblages and thus provides more comprehensive estimates of turnover. We evaluated the effectiveness of MPAs at preserving fish zeta diversity across a network of marine reserves over 10 years in Batemans Marine Park, Australia. Snorkel transect surveys were conducted across multiple replicated and spatially interspersed sites to record fish species occurrence through time. Protection provided by MPAs conferred greater stability in fish species turnover. Marine protected areas had significantly shallower decline in zeta diversity compared with partially protected and unprotected areas. The retention of harvested species was four to six times greater in MPAs compared with partially protected and unprotected areas, and the stabilising effects of protection were observable within four years of park implementation. Conversely, partial protection offered little to no improvement in stability, compared with unprotected areas. These findings support the efficacy of MPAs for preserving temporal fish diversity stability. The implementation of MPAs helps stabilise fish diversity and may, therefore, support biodiversity resilience under ongoing environmental change.

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Published By
Pettersen A. K., Marzinelli E., Steinberg P. D., Coleman M. A.