Larval dispersal and marine population connectivity

Robert K. Cowen, Su Sponaugle

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1165 Scopus citations


Connectivity, or the exchange of individuals among marine populations, is a central topic in marine ecology. For most benthic marine species with complex life cycles, this exchange occurs primarily during the pelagic larval stage. The small size of larvae coupled with the vast and complex fluid environment they occupy hamper our ability to quantify dispersal and connectivity. Evidence from direct and indirect approaches using geochemical and genetic techniques suggests that populations range from fully open to fully closed. Understanding the biophysical processes that contribute to observed dispersal patterns requires integrated interdisciplinary approaches that incorporate high-resolution biophysical modeling and empirical data. Further, differential postsettlement survival of larvae may add complexity to measurements of connectivity. The degree to which populations self recruit or receive subsidy from other populations has consequences for a number of fundamental ecological processes that affect population regulation and persistence. Finally, a full understanding of population connectivity has important applications for management and conservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-466
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Marine Science
StatePublished - 2009


  • Biophysical modeling
  • Complex life cycles
  • Larval transport
  • Metapopulation
  • Population dynamics
  • Self recruitment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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