Marine protected areas (MPAs) have been advocated as a major tool for recovery and conservation of marine resources.

This study assessed the effects of a network of no-take areas (Cabo de Gata Natural Park, Spain, Mediterranean Sea) on different stages of the life cycle of Mediterranean reef fish.

The authors found that not only adults but also post-larvae were related to spatial protection measures.

Adults of commercial and demersal species were more abundant inside reserve limits, as well as their biomass. The authors state, however, that no clear biomass gradient was observed across reserve boundaries, and conclude that higher abundance values were caused by an increase in small-sized fishes, which did not contribute with proportionally high biomass values. The authors suggest lack of adequate enforcement as the principal cause for these results, highlighting the need for a high level of surveillance to fulfil MPA objectives.

On the other hand, the study found that post-larvae of commercially important species were more abundant outside protected areas. The authors propose active selection of preferred settlement habitats, as well as larval retention favoured by the geomorphological configuration of the coast, to explain these findings.

Taking into account the obtained results, the authors suggest the inclusion of knowledge on early life-history stages of reef fishes on the design of MPA networks, due to the indirect implications of these phases on the successful achievement of MPA objectives.

Félix-Hackradt F, Hackradt C, Treviño-Otón J, Pérez-Ruzafa A, García-Charton A (2018) Effect of marine protected areas on distinct fish life-history stages. Marine Environmental Research 140:200-209