Surfing, spinning, or diving from reef to reef: Effects on population connectivity

Claire B. Paris, Laurent M. Chérubin, Robert K Cowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

232 Scopus citations


Coral reef fish have considerable larval behavioral capabilities that can lead to successful completion of the early pelagic life phase. In particular, vertical migration during ontogeny increases retention near natal reefs and decreases losses due to transport by currents. For those larvae that are not returning home, the relative influence of behavior (biology) and currents (physics) on their arrival pattern among adjacent and distant reefs is not known. Moreover, interactions of the naturally small-scale larval movements with those of larger-scale currents need to be evaluated with regard to the spatial patterns of recruitment. We used an offline Lagrangian stochastic modeling approach to explore the relative influence of physical (i.e. eddy perturbation, diffusion) and biological processes (i.e. vertical movement, mortality) on the connectivity of the coral reef fish population in the western Caribbean, a region with complex geomorphology and circulation. This study revealed that the impact of larval behavior extends beyond enhancing the process of self-recruitment by changing population connectivity patterns. Connectivity was significantly influenced by larval vertical movement, survival, and by the eddy field, all controlling arrival patterns near reefs. A sensitivity analysis was done to gauge the robustness of the results by varying the model parameters. We found that particle-tracking models with homogeneous parameterization of the sub-grid motion tended to bias dispersal from and along the reef track, which can be mitigated by using spatially explicit parameters calculated from the Eulerian velocity fields. Finally, larval survival emerged as a key component for connectivity estimates, the study of which poses a great challenge in tropical ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-300
Number of pages16
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
StatePublished - Oct 11 2007


  • Dispersal kernel
  • IBM
  • Lagrangian
  • Modeling fish larvae
  • Offline model
  • Population connectivity
  • Spin
  • Stochastic model
  • Transition probability matrix

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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