Emilius A. Aalto, Fiorenza Micheli, Charles A. Boch, Jose A. Espinoza Montes,C. Broch Woodson, and Giulio A. De Leo
ORCIDs: Aalto, https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8705-1000; Woodson, https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1325-3667.
For many species, reproductive failure may occur if abundance drops below critical Allee thresholds for successful breeding, in some cases impeding recovery. At the same time, extreme environmental events can cause catastrophic collapse in otherwise healthy populations. Understanding what natural processes and management strategies may allow for persistence and recovery of natural populations is critical in the face of expected climate change scenarios of increased environmental variability. Using a spatially explicit continuous-size fishery model with stochastic dispersal parameterized for abalone—a harvested species with sedentary adults and a dispersing larval phase—we investigated whether the establishment of a system of marine protected areas (MPAs) can prevent population collapse, compared with nonspatial management when populations are affected by mass mortality from environmental shocks and subject to Allee effects. We found that MPA networks dramatically reduced the risk of collapse following catastrophic events (75%–90% mortality), while populations often continued to decline in the absence of spatial protection. Similar resilience could be achieved by closing the fishery immediately following mass mortalities but would necessitate long periods without catch and therefore economic income. For species with Allee effects, the use of protected areas can ensure persistence following mass mortality events while maintaining ecosystem services during the recovery period.