Effects of marine reserves on the reproductive biology and recruitment rates of commonly and rarely exploited limpets

  • M.D.V. Nakin
  • C.D. McQuaid
Keywords: gonadosomatic index, marine protected areas, sex ratio, sexual maturity, spawning period


We tested the effects of marine reserve status on the reproductive biology and recruitment rates of two commonly exploited (Helcion concolor, Scutellastra longicosta) and two rarely exploited (Cellana capensis, Scutellastra granularis) limpet species using two reserve and two non-reserve sites on the south coast of South Africa. Because densities of commonly exploited species are lower outside reserves, we hypothesised that limpets outside reserves will: (i) mature earlier; and (ii) show higher individual reproductive output. Rarely exploited species should show no such effects. For recruitment, we hypothesised that if recruits are attracted to adults or survive better where there are more adults, then commonly exploited (but not rarely exploited) species should show higher recruitment inside reserves. Analyses of gonadosomatic indices produced significant Month × Reserve interactions for all species (ANCOVA, p < 0.05), indicating inconsistent reserve effects even for exploited species, although months with significant differences occurred more often in the commonly exploited species, giving weak support to the hypothesis regarding reproductive output. Reserve status had no significant effect on sex ratios or size at sexual maturity for either sex of any species. Accordingly, reserves had only a minor influence on reproduction in these species, which might reflect an indirect effect of poor policing. The timing of major recruitment events differed among species, with two broad patterns: recruitment was sporadic for C. capensis and S. longicosta and protracted for H. concolor and S. granularis. Recruit densities showed strong site effects. Highest recruitment occurred at the exploited site, Xhora, with no reserve effects, except in a single month for C. capensis, indicating that recruitment is independent of whether the site is protected or not. Therefore, reserves do not enhance recruitment directly, but because these populations appear to be open on scales of tens of kilometres, generally higher densities of limpets within reserves could enhance overall recruitment, because of greater gamete output by the population. Accordingly, reserves might have an indirect ‘spillover’ effect on recruitment, if not a direct one.

Keywords: gonadosomatic index, marine protected areas, sex ratio, sexual maturity, spawning period