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Response of Rocky Reef Top Predators (Serranidae: Epinephelinae) in and Around Marine Protected Areas in the Western Mediterranean Sea

July 2, 2014

Groupers species are extremely vulnerable to overfishing and many species are threatened worldwide. In recent decades, Mediterranean groupers experienced dramatic population declines. Marine protected areas (MPAs) can protect populations inside their boundaries and provide individuals to adjacent fishing areas through the process of spillover and larval export. This study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of six marine reserves in the Western Mediterranean Sea to protect the populations of three species of grouper, Epinephelus marginatusEpinephelus costae and Mycteroperca rubra, and to understand in which circumstances MPAs are able to export biomass to neighbouring areas. All the studied MPAs, except one where no grouper was observed, were able to maintain high abundance, biomass and mean weight of groupers. Size classes were more evenly distributed inside than outside MPAs. In two reserves, biomass gradients could be detected through the boundaries of the reserve as an indication of spillover. In some cases, habitat structure appeared to exert a great influence on grouper abundance, biomass and mean individual weight, influencing the gradient shape. Because groupers are generally sedentary animals with a small home range, we suggest that biomass gradients could only occur where groupers attain sufficient abundance inside MPA limits, indicating a strongly density-dependent process.

Hackradt CW, García-Charton JA, Harmelin-Vivien M, Pérez-Ruzafa Á, Le Diréach L, et al., 2014: Response of Rocky Reef Top Predators (Serranidae: Epinephelinae) in and Around Marine Protected Areas in the Western Mediterranean Sea, PLoS ONE 9(6): e98206, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098206. Article.

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