, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 341-354

Patterns of connectivity among populations of a coral reef fish

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Knowledge of the patterns and scale of connectivity among populations is essential for the effective management of species, but our understanding is still poor for marine species. We used otolith microchemistry of newly settled bicolor damselfish (Stegastes partitus) in the Mesoamerican Reef System (MRS), Western Caribbean, to investigate patterns of connectivity among populations over 2 years. First, we assessed spatial and temporal variability in trace elemental concentrations from the otolith edge to make a ‘chemical map’ of potential source reef(s) in the region. Significant otolith chemical differences were detected at three spatial scales (within-atoll, between-atolls, and region-wide), such that individuals were classified to locations with moderate (52 % jackknife classification) to high (99 %) accuracy. Most sites at Turneffe Atoll, Belize showed significant temporal variability in otolith concentrations on the scale of 1–2 months. Using a maximum likelihood approach, we estimated the natal source of larvae recruiting to reefs across the MRS by comparing ‘natal’ chemical signatures from the otolith of recruits to the ‘chemical map’ of potential source reef(s). Our results indicated that populations at both Turneffe Atoll and Banco Chinchorro supply a substantial amount of individuals to their own reefs (i.e., self-recruitment) and thus emphasize that marine conservation and management in the MRS region would benefit from localized management efforts as well as international cooperation.

Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Glenn Almany