Identifying the key biophysical drivers, connectivity outcomes, and metapopulation consequences of larval dispersal in the sea

Eric A. Treml, John R. Ford, Kerry P. Black, Stephen E. Swearer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Population connectivity, which is essential for the persistence of benthic marine metapopulations, depends on how life history traits and the environment interact to influence larval production, dispersal and survival. Although we have made significant advances in our understanding of the spatial and temporal dynamics of these individual processes, developing an approach that integrates the entire population connectivity process from reproduction, through dispersal, and to the recruitment of individuals has been difficult. We present a population connectivity modelling framework and diagnostic approach for quantifying the impact of i) life histories, ii) demographics, iii) larval dispersal, and iv) the physical seascape, on the structure of connectivity and metapopulation dynamics. We illustrate this approach using the subtidal rocky reef ecosystem of Port Phillip Bay, were we provide a broadly-applicable framework of population connectivity and quantitative methodology for evaluating the relative importance of individual factors in determining local and system outcomes. Results: The spatial characteristics of marine population connectivity are primarily influenced by larval mortality, the duration of the pelagic larval stage, and the settlement competency characteristics, with significant variability imposed by the geographic setting and the timing of larval release. The relative influence and the direction and strength of the main effects were strongly consistent among 10 connectivity-based metrics. Conclusions: These important intrinsic factors (mortality, length of the pelagic larval stage, and the extent of the precompetency window) and the spatial and temporal variability represent key research priorities for advancing our understanding of the connectivity process and metapopulation outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number17
JournalMovement Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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