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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 568:137-150 (2017)  -  DOI:

Highly localized replenishment of coral reef fish populations near nursery habitats

I. Nagelkerken1,2,*, K. B. Huebert3,4, J. E. Serafy3, M. G. G. Grol2, M. Dorenbosch2, C. J. A. Bradshaw5

1School of Biological Sciences and The Environment Institute, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia
2Department of Animal Ecology and Ecophysiology, Institute for Water and Wetland Research, Radboud University Nijmegen, 6500 GL Nijmegen, The Netherlands
3NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC, 75 Virginia Beach Drive, Miami, Florida 33149, USA
4Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, PO Box 775, Cambridge, Maryland 21613, USA
5School of Biological Sciences, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, South Australia 5001, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Connectivity is essential for ecosystem functioning, and in particular for the population dynamics of species that use different habitats during consecutive life stages. Mangrove and seagrass habitats serve to replenish populations of a range of species that live on coral reefs, but we know little about the fate of these early stages and the spatial scale at which adult populations benefit from this enhancement effect. We examined densities of 12 ecologically important Caribbean fish species across 3 nursery-dependency categories (high, low, none). We tested the hypotheses that for nursery species, (1) densities and (2) biomass in the adult habitat decrease with distance from nurseries as the enhancement effect is progressively diluted, and (3) densities in the adult habitat are positively correlated with total juvenile abundance in nurseries. Reef density and biomass of the high- and low-dependence species declined rapidly within ~4 km from nurseries, while at a distance of ~14 km densities of most species were close to zero. These patterns were not confounded by local habitat complexity. Density and biomass of the no-dependence species remained unchanged with distance. Total abundance of juvenile fishes in nurseries was a good predictor of total adult abundance on adjacent reefs for the high-dependence species. Our results demonstrate that for several species, enhancement of adult reef populations by mangrove and seagrass nurseries is highly localized (less than ~4 km) in terms of abundance and biomass, and the magnitude of this enhancement is highly correlated with juvenile population abundances within the nursery habitats.

KEY WORDS: Mangroves · Seagrass · Nursery function · Population replenishment · Dispersal · Caribbean

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Cite this article as: Nagelkerken I, Huebert KB, Serafy JE, Grol MGG, Dorenbosch M, Bradshaw CJA (2017) Highly localized replenishment of coral reef fish populations near nursery habitats. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 568:137-150.

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