New Zealand established its first no-take marine reserve more than 25 years ago. Twenty notake marine reserves have now been created, although few of these are considered comparable. We considered whether existing conceptual models of population and community structure based only on data from exploited systems lack the baseline information of natural states necessary to make accurate predictions for new reserves. Three of the oldest and best-studied reserves are situated on the northeastern coast of New Zealand. These reserves are considered broadly comparable replicates, and research has shown the recovery of previously exploited predator populations and the reestablishment of trophic controls over community structure and productivity. None of the major changeswas predicted when the reserveswere created. All the observations from and experimental tests of hypotheses in these three ecologically comparable reserves have provided predictive models for future reserves. Recent surveys in newly created reserves, however, suggest that these models are bioregion and habitat specific. In these newreserves the recovery of previously exploited predatorswas predicted but did not always occur. Where trends were correctly predicted, the speed and amplitude of the changes were not accurately predicted. Research in New Zealand suggests that it is not yet possible to predict explicit outcomes for newly created reserves and less possible to predict detailed results for systems of reserves. Results from a representative system of reserves, including all major habitats within all bioregions and broadly comparable reserves, are needed. Such a system will enable the range and variety of natural ecosystem dynamics to be investigated and provide the controls necessary to measure the effects of exploitation.
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