Marine reserves will need stepping stones to help fish disperse between them

Marine reserves will need stepping stones to help fish disperse between them

Posted: 27 Oct 2015 10:29 AM PDT

A massive field effort on the Belizean Barrier Reef has revealed for the first time that the offspring of at least one coral reef fish, a neon goby, do not disperse far from their parents. The results indicate that if marine protected areas aim to conserve such fishes, and biodiversity more broadly, then they must be spaced closely enough to allow larvae to disperse successfully between them.
A growing body of scientific research has demonstrated that marine protected areas, particularly no-take marine reserves that exclude extractive activities like fishing, can increase biodiversity and sustain fisheries within the reserves, often with spillover benefits in surrounding areas. But despite the decline of coral reefs and fisheries worldwide, only 3.5 percent of the ocean is protected and only 1.6 percent of it is fully protected. Moreover, for reserves to conserve marine biodiversity most effectively, they must be embedded in networks that are connected such that marine life from one reserve can repopulate other reserves. “Before our study, we didn’t have a deep, quantitative understanding of how far fish larvae do and do not disperse from their parents,” says study co-author Peter Buston of Boston University. “If we’re going to design effective networks of marine reserves, we need to know how far baby fish can and cannot travel. Our study suggests that for fishes like the neon gobies, protected areas may need to be close together.”…


Cassidy C. D’Aloia, Steven M. Bogdanowicz, Robin K. Francis, John E. Majoris, Richard G. Harrison, Peter M. Buston. Patterns, causes, and consequences of marine larval dispersal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201513754 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1513754112

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