Detecting larval export from marine reserves.

R. A. Pelc, R. R. Warner, S. D. Gaines, C. B. Paris, Robin Pelc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Marine reserve theory suggests that where large, productive populations are protected within no-take marine reserves, fished areas outside reserves will benefit through the spillover of larvae produced in the reserves. However, empirical evidence for larval export has been sparse. Here we use a simple idealized coastline model to estimate the expected magnitude and spatial scale of larval export from no-take marine reserves across a range of reserve sizes and larval dispersal scales. Results suggest that, given the magnitude of increased production typically found in marine reserves, benefits from larval export are nearly always large enough to offset increased mortality outside marine reserves due to displaced fishing effort. However, the proportional increase in recruitment at sites outside reserves is typically small, particularly for species with long-distance (on the order of hundreds of kilometers) larval dispersal distances, making it very difficult to detect in field studies. Enhanced recruitment due to export may be detected by sampling several sites at an appropriate range of distances from reserves or at sites downcurrent of reserves in systems with directional dispersal. A review of existing empirical evidence confirms the model’s suggestion that detecting export may be difficult without an exceptionally large differential in production, short-distance larval dispersal relative to reserve size, directional dispersal, or a sampling scheme that encompasses a broad range of distances from the reserves.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
StatePublished - Oct 26 2010


  • dispersal
  • fisheries
  • marine protected areas
  • recruitment
  • spillover


  • Biology
  • Aquaculture and Fisheries

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