MEPS 339:13-24 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps339013

Along-shore larval dispersal kernels in a numerical ocean model of the central Chilean coast

Christopher M. Aiken1,2, Sergio A. Navarrete1,*, Manuel I. Castillo1, Juan Carlos Castilla1

1Estación Costera de Investigaciones Marinas, Las Cruces, and Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Casilla 114-D, Santiago, Chile
2Centro de Investigación en Ecosistemas de la Patagonia, Bilbao 449, Coyhaique, Chile
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Dispersal kernels provide a useful way to quantify the average spatial distribution of propagules originating from a given point in space. Consequently, dispersal kernels have been used in analytical and numerical studies of short- and long-distance dispersal of marine invertebrates and fish with pelagic larval stages. In most cases, the shape of dispersal kernels is pre-determined and parameterised with knowledge of larval duration or mean current velocities homogeneously across space. Here, the characteristics of planktonic larval dispersal for near-shore species in a realistic coastal ocean flow are investigated through the use of a numerical ocean model of a section of the central Chilean coast. The 3-dimensional primitive equation model was forced by 4 yr of observed winds from Las Cruces. Planktonic larval dispersal was simulated by advecting passive drifters using the evolving model velocity field. No a priori assumptions were made about diffusion-advection statistics. Drifters were released daily from regularly spaced locations along the coast and were considered to have settled if found within 1 km of the coast 30 d after release. Observed dispersal kernels were then calculated for each release location, and their variability in space and time was examined. This variability was found to be substantial over spatial scales less than a typical larval-advection scale, and, as a result, a spatially and temporally averaged dispersal kernel was inadequate as a global model of settlement. Large along-shore variation in the shape of dispersal kernels led to significant variation in the spatial pattern of connectivity among local sites, with some acting as net sources and some as net sinks within scales of 10s of kilometres. These results are linked to the along-shore and seasonal variability in ocean circulation, in particular close to shore. Both local and global dispersal kernels were found to be non-Gaussian, with their distribution related to that of the ocean velocity field. It is concluded that, in realistic flows with complicated coastal geometry, considerable departure from the expected Gaussian dispersal kernels based on homogeneous flow conditions can lead to complex spatial patterns of connectivity and successful settlement along a relatively simple but real coastline.


KEY WORDS: Larval settlement · Population connectivity · Recruitment · Marine reserves · Nearshore oceanography · Upwelling · Wind stress · Dispersal


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