Interdisciplinary analysis of larval dispersal for a coral reef fish: opening the black box

C. W.W. Counsell*, R. R. Coleman, S. S. Lal, B. W. Bowen, E. C. Franklin, A. B. Neuheimer, B. S. Powell, R. J. Toonen, M. J. Donahue, M. A. Hixon, M. A. McManus

*Corresponding author for this work

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Many marine animals have a biphasic life cycle in which demersal adults spawn pela gic larvae with high dispersal potential. An understanding of the spatial and temporal patterns of larval dispersal is critical for describing connectivity and local retention. Existing tools in oceanography, genetics, and ecology can each reveal only part of the overall pattern of larval dispersal. We combined insights from a coupled physical-biological model, parentage analyses, and field surveys to span larval dispersal pathways, endpoints, and recruitment of the convict surgeonfish Acanthurus triostegus. Our primary study region was the windward coast of O'ahu, Hawai'i. A high abundance of juvenile A. triostegus occurred along the windward coast, with the highest abundance inside Kane'ohe Bay. The output from our numerical model showed that larval release location accounted for most of the variation in simulated settlement. Seasonal variation in settlement probability was apparent, and patterns observed in model simulations aligned with in situ observations of recruitment. The bay acted as a partial retention zone, with larvae that were released within or entering the bay having a much higher probability of settlement. Genetic parentage analyses aligned with larval transport modeling results, indicating self-recruitment of A. triostegus within the bay as well as recruitment into the bay from sites outside. We conclude that Kane'ohe Bay retains reef fish larvae and promotes settlement based on concordant results from numerical models, parentage analyses, and field observations. Such interdisciplinary ap - proaches provide details of larval dispersal and recruitment heretofore only partially revealed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Pages (from-to)117-132
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Acanthurus triostegus
  • Connectivity
  • Coral reef
  • Coupled physical-biological modeling
  • Larval dispersal
  • Parentage analysis
  • Reef fish surveys
  • Self-recruitment


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