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Variation in larval life-history traits among reef fishes across the Isthmus of Panama


We tested the hypothesis that regional differences in oceanic productivity have led to the evolution of predictable patterns of regional variation in life-history traits of pelagic larvae of tropical reef fishes. To do so we compared larval traits (egg and hatchling size, larval growth rate and duration, and size at settlement) among closely related reef fishes from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the Isthmus of Panama. This comparison provides a control for phylogenetic effects because those regions shared a common fauna prior to the rise of the Isthmus ˜3.5 million years ago, subsequent to which each fauna evolved independently under a very different productivity regime. We measured larval traits of 12 benthic-spawning damselfishes (Pomacentridae: Abudefduf, Chromis and Stegastes) and 13 pelagic-spawning wrasses (Labridae: Bodianus, Halichoeres and Thalassoma). These included members of each genus on each side of the Isthmus and four sets of transisthmian sister species of pomacentrids. Among the pomacentrids we found consistent transisthmian differences in hatchling size, but not in other larval traits. Essentially the reverse pattern occurred among the labrids – larval growth and duration differed consistently among congeners in the two regions, but without consistent differences in hatchling size or size at settlement. Neither relationship is predicted by the regional-productivity hypothesis. Most of the differences were quite small. Stronger phylogenetic effects on larval traits (inter- and intrageneric variation within regions) occur in both families and evidently overwhelm any effect of regional variation in productivity. Reassessment of data that takes into account such phylogenetic effects questions previous conclusions about the existence of regional differences in larval traits among damselfishes in the West Pacific and the Caribbean.

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Received: 19 January 2000 / Accepted: 26 September 2000

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Wellington, G., Robertson, D. Variation in larval life-history traits among reef fishes across the Isthmus of Panama. Marine Biology 138, 11–22 (2001).

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  • Regional Variation
  • Regional Difference
  • Reef Fish
  • Pacific Coast
  • Larval Growth