• Open Access

Transient responses of fished populations to marine reserve establishment


  • Editor Hugh Possingham

Correspondence J. Wilson White, Department of Biology & Marine Biology, UNCW, 601 S College Rd, Wilmington, NC 28403, USA. Tel: 910-962-3058; fax: 910-962-4066. E-mail: whitejw@uncw.edu


Implementation of no-take marine reserves is typically followed by monitoring to ensure that a reserve meets its intended goal, such as increasing the abundance of fished species. The factors affecting whether abundance will increase within a reserve are well characterized; however, those results are based on long-term equilibria of population models. Here we use age-structured models of a generic fish population to analyze the short-term transient response. We show that it may take decades for a fished population to reach postreserve equilibrium. In the meantime, short-term transient dynamics dominate. During the transient phase, population abundance could either remain unchanged, decrease, or exhibit single-generation oscillations, regardless of the eventual long-term result. Such transient dynamics are longer and more oscillatory for populations with heavier fishing, older ages at maturity, lower natural mortality rates, and lower larval connectivity. We provide metrics based on demographic data to describe the important characteristics of these postreserve transient dynamics.