Royal Society Publishing

Oceanographic and behavioural assumptions in models of the fate of coral and coral reef fish larvae

Eric Wolanski, Michael J. Kingsford

Abstract

A predictive model of the fate of coral reef fish larvae in a reef system is proposed that combines the oceanographic processes of advection and turbulent diffusion with the biological process of horizontal swimming controlled by olfactory and auditory cues within the timescales of larval development. In the model, auditory cues resulted in swimming towards the reefs when within hearing distance of the reef, whereas olfactory cues resulted in the larvae swimming towards the natal reef in open waters by swimming against the concentration gradients in the smell plume emanating from the natal reef. The model suggested that the self-seeding rate may be quite large, at least 20% for the larvae of rapidly developing reef fish species, which contrasted with a self-seeding rate less than 2% for non-swimming coral larvae. The predicted self-recruitment rate of reefs was sensitive to a number of parameters, such as the time at which the fish larvae reach post-flexion, the pelagic larval duration of the larvae, the horizontal turbulent diffusion coefficient in reefal waters and the horizontal swimming behaviour of the fish larvae in response to auditory and olfactory cues, for which better field data are needed. Thus, the model suggested that high self-seeding rates for reef fish are possible, even in areas where the ‘sticky water’ effect is minimal and in the absence of long-term trapping in oceanic fronts and/or large-scale oceanic eddies or filaments that are often argued to facilitate the return of the larvae after long periods of drifting at sea.

  • Received February 26, 2014.
  • Accepted June 4, 2014.
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