Reserves are being used increasingly to conserve fish communities and populations under threat from overfishing, but little consideration has been given to how fish behavior might affect reserve function. This review examines the implications of how fish use space, in particular the occurrence and size of home ranges and the frequency and direction of home range relocations. Examples are drawn primarily from the literature on coral reef fishes, but the principles apply to other habitats. Reserves can protect fish species only if individuals restrict their movements to a localized home range during at least part of the life cycle. Home range sizes increase with body size. In small reserves, a significant proportion of fish whose home ranges are centered within the reserve can be exposed to fishing mortality because their home ranges include non-reserve areas. Relocation of home ranges following initial settlement increases exposure to the fishery, especially if habitat selection is frequency-dependent. Distance, barriers, and costs of movement counter such redistribution. These considerations lead to predictions that population density and mean fish size (1) will form gradients across reserve boundaries with maxima in the center of the reserve and minima outside the reserve away from the boundary; (2) will increase rapidly in newly established reserves, only later providing ‘spillover’ to adjacent fisheries as density-dependent emigration begins to take effect; and (3) will be higher in reserves that are larger and have higher area:edge ratios, more habitat types, natural barriers between reserve and non-reserve areas, and higher habitat quality inside than outside the reserve. (4) Species with low mobility and weak density-dependence of space use will show the greatest increase in reserves and the strongest benefit for population reproductive capacity, but those with intermediate levels of these traits will provide the greatest spillover benefit to nearby fisheries.
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