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Larval dispersal is a critically important yet enigmatic process in marine ecology, evolution, and conservation. Determining the distance and direction that tiny larvae travel in the open ocean continues to be a challenge. Our current understanding of larval dispersal patterns at management-relevant scales is principally and separately informed by genetic parentage data and biological-oceanographic (biophysical) models. Parentage datasets provide clear evidence of individual larval dispersal events, but their findings are spatially and temporally limited. Biophysical models offer a more complete picture of dispersal patterns at regional scales but are of uncertain accuracy. Here, we develop statistical techniques that integrate these two important sources of information on larval dispersal. We then apply these methods to an extensive genetic parentage dataset to successfully validate a high-resolution biophysical model for the economically important reef fish species Plectropomus maculatus in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Our results demonstrate that biophysical models can provide accurate descriptions of larval dispersal at spatial and temporal scales that are relevant to management. They also show that genetic parentage datasets provide enough statistical power to exclude poor biophysical models. Biophysical models that included species-specific larval behaviour provided markedly better fits to the parentage data than assuming passive behaviour, but incorrect behavioural assumptions led to worse predictions than ignoring behaviour altogether. Our approach capitalises on the complementary strengths of genetic parentage datasets and high-resolution biophysical models to produce an accurate picture of larval dispersal patterns at regional scales. The results provide essential empirical support for the use of accurately parameterised biophysical larval dispersal models in marine spatial planning and management.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: PLoS biology
Understanding the causes of larval dispersal is a major goal of marine ecology, yet most research focuses on proximate causes. Here we ask how ultimate, evolutionary causes affect dispersal. Building ...
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