Density-dependent body growth reduces the potential of marine reserves to enhance yields



    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Theoretical Ecology, Ecology Building, Lund University, SE-223 62 Lund, Sweden;
    Search for more papers by this author

    1. Department of Theoretical Ecology, Ecology Building, Lund University, SE-223 62 Lund, Sweden;
    2. Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, PO Box 35, FIN-40351, Jyväskylä, Finland; and
    Search for more papers by this author

    1. Center for Stock Assessment Research and Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, Jack Baskin School of Engineering, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
    Search for more papers by this author

Anna Gårdmark, Department of Theoretical Ecology, Lund University, Ecology Building, SE-223 62 Lund, Sweden (fax + 46 46 222 37 66; e-mail


  • 1Some models of marine no-take reserves predict that reserves can enhance fishery yield. However, empirical evidence of this remains inconclusive. One reason for this may be the disregard for density-dependent body growth in most models. Density-dependent body growth links the number and size of individuals, and thus could influence the biomass of fishery yield.
  • 2We developed an age- and size-structured model of an exploited population and analysed the effect of implementing a no-take reserve of varying size.
  • 3Protecting part of a population from exploitation in a no-take reserve results in a rapid build-up of biomass inside the reserve because of increased survival. However, when body growth is density-dependent it also results in reduced length at a given age within the no-take reserve because of crowding effects. This prediction is backed up by empirical observations.
  • 4If there is export of individuals (here larvae) from the no-take reserve, length at a given age will also decrease in the fished part of the population outside the reserve. An increase in the number of exploitable individuals thus results in decreased individual body mass. The positive effect of larval drift on fished population size and catch numbers will therefore rarely translate into an increase in equilibrium yield biomass.
  • 5Synthesis and applications. When body growth is density-dependent, implementation of no-take reserves affects the body size of both protected and exploitable individuals. Although reserves can have several benefits besides increasing yields, our study shows that, if density-dependent somatic effects are important, a general increase in yield biomass cannot be expected. In populations with density-dependent body growth, reserves are more likely to decrease yield biomass unless the population is severely overexploited. Analyses of the efficiency of marine reserves as a means of enhancing the yield of fisheries need to account for ecological processes, and density-dependent body growth is likely to be key.