MEPS 282:271-284 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps282271

Diversity of leptocephalus larvae around the island of Barbados (West Indies): relevance to regional distributions

D. E. Richardson*, R. K. Cowen

Marine Biology and Fisheries Division, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, Florida 33149-1098, USA

ABSTRACT: The cryptic nature of many elopomorph species and their occupation of minimally explored habitats have led to the underestimation of their importance as a component of regional biodiversity. Additionally, it had led to their exclusion from studies that seek to resolve the processes and life history traits important in determining the geographic distributions of species. Collections of the larval stage of elopomorphs provide one means of addressing regional diversity in this taxa. Plankton tows around Barbados during 4 separate years collected 68 identifiable taxa of the leptocephalus larval form unique to elopomorphs. While most of these species have either been collected as adults in the Lesser Antilles or upcurrent in the Guyanas, there remained 11 species whose adults are not known from either biogeographic area, and 7 leptocephalus types of species not described as adults. To determine whether these leptocephali were likely to be the product of local spawning, or alternatively expatriates from the Guyanas, temporal patterns of length frequency distributions and abundance of each species were analyzed with respect to regional oceanographic conditions. High abundances and small leptocephali of species probably expatriated from the Guyanas were found to coincide with periods when North Brazil Current (NBC) rings were present around Barbados and locally produced coral reef fish larvae were flushed away from the sample area. Minimum size classes and high abundances of Lesser Antillean species were more sporadic over time. While this work does help establish the geographic distribution of a number of rare and less frequently encountered species, it also highlights the lack of knowledge about elopomorph distributions that justifies their exclusion from biogeographic studies reliant on accurate fine-scale distribution patterns. However, a comparison of species distributions across major biogeographic boundaries indicates that elopomorph species as a whole are more broadly distributed than perciform species, a pattern attributable to many unique characteristics of their leptocephalus larval stage.

KEY WORDS: Leptocephali · Elopomorpha · Larval transport · Eels · Lesser Antilles · Guyanas · North Brazil Current ring

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