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Keywords:

  • Marine conservation;
  • marine protected areas;
  • marine reserves;
  • temporal effects

Abstract

Marine reserves are becoming a popular tool for marine conservation and resource management worldwide. In the past, reserves have been created with little understanding of how they actually affect the areas they are intended to protect. A few recent reviews have evaluated how reserves in general affect the density and biomass of organisms within them, but little work has been done to assess temporal patterns of these impacts. Here we review 112 independent measurements of 80 reserves to show that the higher average values of density, biomass, average organism size, and diversity inside reserves (relative to controls) reach mean levels within a short (1–3 y) period of time and that the values are subsequently consistent across reserves of all ages (up to 40 y). Therefore, biological responses inside marine reserves appear to develop quickly and last through time. This result should facilitate their use in the management of marine resources.