Marine reserve research from Leigh featured in special issue of Environmental Conservation

24 September 2012

Research from a number of our researchers at the University of Auckland’s Leigh Marine Laboratory has recently featured in a special issue of Environmental Conservation on Temperate Marine Protected Areas. The special issue, edited by Dr Trevor Willis, who carried out his PhD on snapper at the Leigh Marine Laboratory and is now a Senior Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, draws together the most current findings from research in marine protected areas in temperate regions worldwide.

The three papers in the special issue lead by current or past Leigh researchers are summarised below:

Lobster recovery in MPAs
Dr Debbie Freeman, who carried out her PhD at the Leigh Marine Laboratory and now works for the Department of Conservation, worked with researchers from throughout New Zealand including our own Richard Taylor and Nick Shears and many other ex-Leigh researchers to compile data on lobster (Jasus edwardsii) from marine reserves throughout New Zealand. The paper demonstrates that while lobster generally recover in marine reserves following protection from fishing, the timing and magnitude of recovery can vary considerably between reserves. Debbie and her colleagues suggest that this variability is largely due to the vagaries of recruitment patterns among locations and over time.

Citation: Freeman, D. J., MacDiarmid, A. B., Taylor, R. B., Davidson, R. J., Grace, R. V., Haggitt, T. R., Kelly, S., & Shears, N.T. (2012). Trajectories of spiny lobster Jasus edwardsii recovery in New Zealand marine reserves: is settlement a driver? Environmental Conservation, 39, 295–304.

Incorporating snapper behaviour into MPA models
In this paper Dr's Russ Babcock and Daniel Egli use an individual based numerical simulation model to simulate changes in populations of snapper Pagrus auratus in north-eastern New Zealand marine reserves. Acoustic telemetry data collected from snapper within the Leigh Marine reserve as part of Daniel Egli’s PhD research were used to define the different behavioural modes of snapper and factor these into the model. The model showed that the response of fish populations within marine reserves was dependent on levels of exploitation in fished areas and that marine reserves with sizes similar to Leigh (c. 5 km2) were too small to fully protect resident reserve snapper populations.

Citation: Babcock, R. C., Egli, D. P., & Attwood, C. G. (2012). Incorporating behavioural variation in individual-based simulation models of marine reserve effectiveness. Environmental Conservation, 39, 282-294.

Can marine reserves protect both predators and prey?
Based on trophic cascade theory sea urchins are expected to decline in marine reserves due to the recovery of previously fished predators (like snapper and lobster). However, in this paper Nick Shears and colleagues analyse long-term monitoring data from the California Channel Islands and demonstrate that harvested red sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) may in fact benefit from protection in marine reserves. They found that sea urchin populations in marine reserves, which were dominated by large individuals, had ~7 times higher reproductive output than fished populations, despite the higher abundance of predators in the reserve.

Citation: Shears, N. T., Kushner, D. J., Katz, S. L., & Gaines, S. D. (2012). Reconciling conflict between the direct and indirect effects of marine reserve protection. Environmental Conservation, 39, 225–236.

Click here to see the rest of the articles in the special issue.