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Potential larval sources, destinations, and self-seeding in the Mariana Archipelago documented using ocean drifters


Identifying transport pathways and sources of reef larvae is an essential component of ecosystem science. Ocean drifters tracked by satellite around the Mariana Archipelago were used to evaluate the possible pathways of transport among islands for passive larvae of reef organisms present in the surface layer. Reef taxa vary in their minimum and maximum larval duration from several days to a few months. Drifters leaving the Marianas required more than 16 days of transport prior to arriving near any adjacent island groups. Drifters arriving at the Marianas required more than 35 days of transport before being tracked back to any adjacent island groups. All arrived from the east or southeast via the North Equatorial Current. Roughly 27 % of the drifters that began in the Marianas returned. The majority of returning drifters (65 %) ended to the north of their starting point. Over 70 % of the drifters that returned to the Marianas after starting there did so in less than 40 days. Overall, this suggests that self-seeding may be of great importance to sustaining Mariana reef populations and that position within the archipelago affects connectivity among islands.

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Mayra Pazos provided guidance on downloading and manipulating drifter data. Dana Okano and Adrienne Loerzel facilitated local discussion of early versions of this material in CNMI and Guam. The approach benefitted from discussions with Fran Castro, Peter Houk, John Ignel, Steven Johnson, Steve McKagan, Todd Miller, Ryan Okano, and other local scientists and managers. Arliss Winship and three anonymous reviewers provided a constructive review of the manuscript. Funding was provided by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. MP was supported under NOAA Contract No. DG133C07NC0616 with CSS-Dynamac Inc.

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Correspondence to Matthew S. Kendall.

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Kendall, M.S., Poti, M. Potential larval sources, destinations, and self-seeding in the Mariana Archipelago documented using ocean drifters. J Oceanogr 70, 549–557 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10872-014-0251-7

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  • Coral reef
  • Larvae
  • Connectivity
  • Larval transport
  • Pelagic larval duration