, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 593-605
Date: 19 Apr 2011

A simple approximation for larval retention around reefs

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Estimating larval retention at individual reefs by local scale three-dimensional flows is a significant problem for understanding, and predicting, larval dispersal. Determining larval dispersal commonly involves the use of computationally demanding and expensively calibrated/validated hydrodynamic models that resolve reef wake eddies. This study models variation in larval retention times for a range of reef shapes and circulation regimes, using a reef-scale three-dimensional hydrodynamic model. It also explores how well larval retention time can be estimated based on the “Island Wake Parameter”, a measure of the degree of flow turbulence in the wake of reefs that is a simple function of flow speed, reef dimension, and vertical diffusion. The mean residence times found in the present study (0.48–5.64 days) indicate substantial potential for self-recruitment of species whose larvae are passive, or weak swimmers, for the first several days after release. Results also reveal strong and significant relationships between the Island Wake Parameter and mean residence time, explaining 81–92% of the variability in retention among reefs across a range of unidirectional flow speeds and tidal regimes. These findings suggest that good estimates of larval retention may be obtained from relatively coarse-scale characteristics of the flow, and basic features of reef geomorphology. Such approximations may be a valuable tool for modeling connectivity and meta-population dynamics over large spatial scales, where explicitly characterizing fine-scale flows around reef requires a prohibitive amount of computation and extensive model calibration.

Communicated by Environment Editor Prof. Rob van Woesik