Restricting human activities through Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is assumed to create more resilient biological communities with a greater capacity to resist and recover following climate events.
This article reviewed the evidence linking protection from local pressures (e.g., fishing and habitat destruction) with increased resilience.
The authors highlight that, despite strong theoretical underpinnings, studies have only rarely attributed resilience responses to the recovery of food webs and habitats, and increases in the diversity of communities and populations.
The review found that, when detected, resistance to ocean warming and recovery after extreme events in MPAs have small effect sizes against a backdrop of natural variability. In contrast, large die-offs are well described from MPAs following climate stress events. The authors suggest that this may be in part because protection from one set of pressures (e.g., fishing) can select for species that are highly sensitive to others (e.g., warming), creating a “Protection Paradox”.
The authors highlight that given that climate change is overwhelming the resilience capacity of marine ecosystems, the only primary solution against climate change impacts is to reduce carbon emissions. They also underpin the importance of high-quality monitoring data to identify emergent resilience signals that do exist, in combination with adequate reference data to quantify the initial system state.
It is concluded that this knowledge will allow networks of diverse protected areas to incorporate spatial refugia against climate change, and identify resilient biological components of natural systems.
Bates et al. (2019) Climate resilience in marine protected areas and the “Protection Paradox”. Biological Conservation 236:305-314.