MEPS 306:247-256 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps306247

Consistent long-term spatial gradients in replenishment for an island population of a coral reef fish

Scott L. Hamilton1,*, J. Wilson White1, Jennifer E. Caselle1, Stephen E. Swearer2, Robert R. Warner1

1Marine Science Institute and Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106-9610, USA
2Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

ABSTRACT: The population replenishment of marine organisms is routinely characterized as highly variable and unpredictable in space and time. Using island-wide recruitment surveys of a common coral reef fish, the bluehead wrasse Thalassoma bifasciatum, in 6 summers spanning a 12 yr period (1991 to 2003), we examined whether spatial patterns of recruitment are consistent or variable through time on St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. Despite annual fluctuations in the magnitude of replenishment, recruitment intensity follows a distinct and consistent spatial gradient that differs in direction between the north (leeward) and south (windward) shores; recruitment declines from west to east on the north shore and east to west on the south shore. The rank ordering of sites on each shore was concordant when recruitment was either pooled across years (monthly variation) or pooled across months (annual variation). When the 2 highest recruitment sites on each shore were considered alone, consistent seasonal effects were also apparent, with higher recruitment from June through August on the north shore, and higher recruitment in September on the south shore. Thus, while the magnitude of recruitment is indeed variable in space and time, its qualitative pattern is predictable in this area. Results of prior investigations of larval dispersal and coastal oceanography around St. Croix shed light on the origin of the consistent recruitment patterns documented in this study. The potential for consistent spatial and temporal patterns in recruitment is an important consideration in the spatial management of marine resources.

KEY WORDS: Population replenishment · Recruitment · Spatial patterns · Thalassoma bifasciatum · St. Croix · Larval delivery · Dispersal · Self-recruitment

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