Pelagic larval duration and settlement size of a reef fish are spatially consistent, but post-settlement growth varies at the reef scale

Leahy, Susannah M., Russ, Garry R., and Abesamis, Rene A. (2015) Pelagic larval duration and settlement size of a reef fish are spatially consistent, but post-settlement growth varies at the reef scale. Coral Reefs, 34 (4). pp. 1283-1296.

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Recent research has demonstrated that, despite a pelagic larval stage, many coral reef fishes disperse over relatively small distances, leading to well-connected populations on scales of 0–30 km. Although variation in key biological characteristics has been explored on the scale of 100–1000 s of km, it has rarely been explored at the scale relevant to actual larval dispersal and population connectivity on ecological timescales. In this study, we surveyed the habitat and collected specimens (n = 447) of juvenile butterflyfish, Chaetodon vagabundus, at nine sites along an 80-km stretch of coastline in the central Philippines to identify variation in key life history parameters at a spatial scale relevant to population connectivity. Mean pelagic larval duration (PLD) was 24.03 d (SE = 0.16 d), and settlement size was estimated to be 20.54 mm total length (TL; SE = 0.61 mm). Both traits were spatially consistent, although this PLD is considerably shorter than that reported elsewhere. In contrast, post-settlement daily growth rates, calculated from otolith increment widths from 1 to 50 d post-settlement, varied strongly across the study region. Elevated growth rates were associated with rocky habitats that this species is known to recruit to, but were strongly negatively correlated with macroalgal cover and exhibited negative density dependence with conspecific juveniles. Larger animals had lower early (first 50 d post-settlement) growth rates than smaller animals, even after accounting for seasonal variation in growth rates. Both VBGF and Gompertz models provided good fits to post-settlement size-at-age data (n = 447 fish), but the VBGF's estimate of asymptotic length (L ∞ = 168 mm) was more consistent with field observations of maximum fish length. Our findings indicate that larval characteristics are consistent at the spatial scale at which populations are likely well connected, but that site-level biological differences develop post-settlement, most likely as a result of key differences in quality of recruitment habitat.

Item ID: 43201
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: Chaetodon vagabundus; coral triangle; pelagic larval duration; otolith increment widths; post-settlement growth; connectivity
Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Australian Society for Fish Biology
Date Deposited: 10 Mar 2016 04:09
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 80%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060207 Population Ecology @ 20%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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