Dispersal and population connectivity are phenotype dependent in a marine metapopulation

Emily K. Fobert, Eric A. Treml, Stephen E. Swearer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Larval dispersal is a key process determining population connectivity, metapopulation dynamics, and community structure in benthic marine ecosystems, yet the biophysical complexity of dispersal is not well understood. In this study, we investigate the interaction between disperser phenotype and hydrodynamics on larval dispersal pathways, using a temperate reef fish species, Trachinops caudimaculatus. We assessed the influence of larval traits on depth distribution and dispersal outcomes by: (i) using 24-h depth-stratified ichthyoplankton sampling, (ii) quantifying individual phenotypes using larval growth histories extracted from the sagittal otoliths of individual larvae, and (iii) simulating potential dispersal outcomes based on the empirical distribution of larval phenotypes and an advanced biological-physical ocean model. We found T. caudimaculatus larvae were vertically stratified with respect to phenotype, with high-quality phenotypes found in the bottom two depth strata, and poor-quality phenotypes found primarily at the surface. Our model showed high- and average-quality larvae experienced significantly higher local retention (more than double) and self-recruitment, and travelled shorter distances relative to poor-quality larvae. As populations are only connected when dispersers survive long enough to reproduce, determining how larval phenotype influences dispersal outcomes will be important for improving our understanding of marine population connectivity and persistence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20191104
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1909
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Biophysical model
  • Dispersal syndrome
  • Disperser phenotype
  • Larval dispersal
  • Realized connectivity
  • Vertical distribution


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