Marine protected areas restore the structure of local communities threatened by global warming and human impact

Tabi, Andrea; Gilarranz, Luis J. ; Saavedra, Serguei
Submitted (2022)

Maintaining the species composition of marine communities is critical for supporting many bio-physical processes including human well-being. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) can successfully help to protect the abundance of target marine species, however, we know little about their ability to restore the structure of local communities. Here, we show that MPAs counterbalance anthropogenic effects and increase by 28\% the probability that a community displays a higher-than-average pyramid-like structure: energetically efficient systems with small basal species as the most abundant and large apex predators as the least abundant. To test these effects, we introduce a nonparametric causal-inference approach using observational data from 286 geographical sites with more than 1,500 fish species. Our work provides a causal platform to quantify how different factors affect marine communities.

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