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Functional traits reveal early responses in marine reserves following protection from fishing


Coleman, MA and Bates, AE and Stuart-Smith, RD and Malcolm, HA and Harsati, D and Jordan, A and Knott, NA and Edgar, GJ and Kelaher, BP, Functional traits reveal early responses in marine reserves following protection from fishing, Diversity and Distributions, 21, (8) pp. 876-887. ISSN 1366-9516 (2015) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

DOI: doi:10.1111/ddi.12309



Evaluating the effectiveness of marine reserves in achieving conservation goals is challenged by the decadal scales over which biological systems respond following protection. Given that trophic interactions underpin community responses following protection and that complex ecological interactions make responses difficult to identify, quantifying changes in species traits may provide detail missed by traditional diversity measures, including information relevant to ecosystem functioning. We determine whether this is the case by comparing community metrics based on functional traits to taxonomic diversity measures associated with ‘no take’ marine reserves and partially protected, fished areas along eight degrees of latitude.


Eighteen ‘no take’ marine reserves and 14 partially protected, fished areas along the east coast of Australia.


We use two independent datasets from shallow and deep coastal rocky reefs to analyse trait-based metrics and taxonomic diversity from sites inside reserves to sites in partially protected, fished areas.


Taxonomic diversity (species diversity and richness) and trait-based multimetrics (functional richness and dispersion) showed no difference with level of protection. Total fish abundance responded positively to protection, but only on shallow reefs. Comparing values of individual functional traits implied a return of larger bodied species of fish in protected areas and an increase in trophic level. The latter was significant on deeper reefs and was strongly correlated with age of protected area. Thus, recovery responses were largely associated with community mean functional trait values, highlighting the value of trait-based approaches for detecting change, when no differences in traditional taxonomic diversity measures were apparent.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:conservation, effectiveness, fish, marine reserve, protected area
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems
UTAS Author:Stuart-Smith, RD (Dr Rick Stuart-Smith)
UTAS Author:Edgar, GJ (Professor Graham Edgar)
ID Code:97639
Year Published:2015
Web of Science® Times Cited:47
Deposited By:Sustainable Marine Research Collaboration
Deposited On:2015-01-06
Last Modified:2017-10-31

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