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

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 06:08 authored by Coleman, MA, Bates, AE, Richard Stuart-SmithRichard Stuart-Smith, Malcolm, HA, Harsati, D, Jordan, A, Knott, NA, Graham EdgarGraham Edgar, Kelaher, BP


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.


Publication title

Diversity and Distributions










Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Place of publication

9600 Garsington Rd, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox4 2Dg

Rights statement

Copyright 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems

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    University Of Tasmania