Uniting paradigms of connectivity in marine ecology
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The connectivity of marine organisms among habitat patches has been dominated by two independent paradigms with distinct conservation strategies. One paradigm is the dispersal of larvae on ocean currents, which suggests networks of marine reserves. The other is the demersal migration of animals from nursery to adult habitats, requiring the conservation of connected ecosystem corridors. Here, we suggest that a common driver, wave exposure, links larval and demersal connectivity across the seascape. To study the effect of linked connectivities on fish abundance at reefs, we parameterize a demographic model for The Bahamas seascape using maps of habitats, empirically forced models of wave exposure and spatially realistic three-dimensional hydrological models of larval dispersal. The integrated empirical-modeling approach enabled us to study linked connectivity on a scale not currently possible by purely empirical studies. We find sheltered environments not only provide greater nursery habitat for juvenile fish but larvae spawned on adjacent reefs have higher retention, thereby creating a synergistic increase in fish abundance. Uniting connectivity paradigms to consider all life stages simultaneously can help explain the evolution of nursery habitat use and simplifies conservation advice: Reserves in sheltered environments have desirable characteristics for biodiversity conservation and can support local fisheries through adult spillover.
Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl. Marine Ichthyology)