Changing role of coral reef marine reserves in a warming climate
Coral reef ecosystems are among the first to fundamentally change in structure due to climate change, which leads to questioning of whether decades of knowledge regarding reef management is still applicable. Here we assess ecological responses to no-take marine reserves over two decades, spanning a major climate-driven coral bleaching event. Pre-bleaching reserve responses were consistent with a large literature, with higher coral cover, more species of fish, and greater fish biomass, particularly of upper trophic levels. However, in the 16 years following coral mortality, reserve effects were absent for the reef benthos, and greatly diminished for fish species richness. Positive fish biomass effects persisted, but the groups of fish benefiting from marine reserves profoundly changed, with low trophic level herbivores dominating the responses. These findings highlight that while marine reserves still have important roles on coral reefs in the face of climate change, the species and functional groups they benefit will be substantially altered.