Connectivity in the Intra-American Seas and implications for potential larval transport
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A major challenge in marine ecology is to describe patterns of larval dispersal and population connectivity, as well as their underlying processes. We re-assessed broad-scale population connectivity with a focus on the 18 coral reef hot spots in the Intra-American Seas described in Roberts (Science 278:1454–1457, 1997), by including seasonal and inter-annual variability in potential larval dispersal. While overall dispersal patterns were in agreement with previous findings, further statistical analyses show that dispersal patterns driven by mean circulation initially described by Roberts (Science 278:1454–1457, 1997) can significantly underestimate particle connectivity envelopes. The results from this study indicate that seasonal and inter-annual variability in circulation are crucial in modulating both dispersal distance and directional anisotropy of virtual larvae over most coral reef sites and that certain larval hotspots are likely more strongly connected than originally thought. Improved larval dispersal transport envelopes can enhance the accuracy of probability estimates which, in turn, may help to explain episodic larval settlement in certain times and places, and guide spatial management such as marine protected areas.
KeywordsIntra-American Sea Connectivity Large-scale circulation
We thank Dr. Daniel Kamykowski for providing constructive comments that help to improve the quality of the manuscript. We are grateful to CNES France and ERA for providing AVISO SSH data, and NOAA AMOL and NOS for providing Florida current transport and coastal sea level data available online. This work was part of Dr. Hui Qian’s Ph.D. dissertation under the supervision of Dr. Ruoying He at North Carolina State University. Research support was provided by NSF OCE 1029841.
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