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Most adult reef fish show site fidelity thus dispersal is limited to the mobile larval stage of the fish, and effective management of such species requires an understanding of the patterns of larval dispersal. In this study, we assess larval reef fish distributions in the waters west of the Big Island of Hawai'i using both in situ and model data. Catches from Cobb midwater trawls off west Hawai'i show that reef fish larvae are most numerous in offshore waters deeper than 3,000 m and consist largely of pre-settlement Pomacanthids, Acanthurids and Chaetodontids.
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In the tropical Indo-Pacific, most phylogeographic studies have focused on the shallow-water taxa that inhabit reefs to approximately 30 m depth. Little is known about the large predatory fishes, primarily snappers (subfamily Etelinae) and groupers (subfamily Epinephelinae) that occur at 100-400 m. These long-lived, slow-growing species support fisheries across the Indo-Pacific, yet no comprehensive genetic surveys within this group have been conducted.

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Many marine organisms can be transported hundreds of kilometres during their pelagic larval stage, yet little is known about spatial and temporal patterns of larval dispersal. Although traditional population-genetic tools can be applied to infer movement of larvae on an evolutionary timescale, large effective population sizes and high rates of gene flow present serious challenges to documenting dispersal patterns over shorter, ecologically relevant, timescales. Here, we address these challenges by combining direct parentage analysis and indirect genetic analyses over a 4-year period to document spatial and temporal patterns of larval dispersal in a common coral-reef fish: the bicolour damselfish (Stegastes partitus).

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A pelagic larval stage is found in nearly all demersal marine teleost fishes, and it is during this pelagic stage that the geographic scale of dispersal is determined. Marine biologists have long made a simplifying assumption that behaviour of larvae--with the possible exception of vertical distribution--has negligible influence on larval dispersal. Because advection by currents can take place over huge scales during a pelagic larval stage that typically lasts for several days to several weeks, this simplifying assumption leads to the conclusion that populations of marine demersal fishes operate over, and are connected over, similar huge scales.

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Understanding the degree of connectivity between coastal and island landscapes and nearby coral reefs is vital to the integrated management of terrestrial and marine environments in the tropics. Coral reef fish are capable of navigating appropriate settlement habitats following their pelagic larval phase, but the mechanisms by which they do this are unclear. The importance of olfactory cues in settlement site selection has been demonstrated, and there is increasing evidence that chemical cues from terrestrial sources may be important for some species.

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