Published in Marine Ecology Progress Series, Volume 384, May 29, 2009, pages 33-46.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Benjamin Ruttenberg was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
The definitive version is available at https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08029.
The study and implementation of no-take marine reserves have increased rapidly over the past decade, providing ample data on the biological effects of reserve protection for a wide range of geographic locations and organisms. The plethora of new studies affords the opportunity to reevaluate previous findings and address formerly unanswered questions with extensive data syntheses. Our results show, on average, positive effects of reserve protection on the biomass, numerical density, species richness, and size of organisms within their boundaries which are remarkably similar to those of past syntheses despite a near doubling of data. New analyses indicate that (1) these results do not appear to be an artifact of reserves being sited in better locations; (2) results do not appear to be driven by displaced fishing effort outside of reserves; (3) contrary to often-made assertions, reserves have similar if not greater positive effects in temperate settings, at least for reef ecosystems; (4) even small reserves can produce significant biological responses irrespective of latitude, although more data are needed to test whether reserve effects scale with reserve size; and (5) effects of reserves vary for different taxonomic groups and for taxa with various characteristics, and not all species increase in response to reserve protection. There is considerable variation in the responses documented across all the reserves in our data set—variability which cannot be entirely explained by which species were studied. We suggest that reserve characteristics and context, particularly the intensity of fishing outside the reserve and inside the reserve before implementation, play key roles in determining the direction and magnitude of the reserve response. However, despite considerable variability, positive responses are far more common than no differences or negative responses, validating the potential for well designed and enforced reserves to serve as globally important conservation and management tools.