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High connectivity among habitats precludes the relationship between dispersal and range size in tropical reef fishes

C Mora, EA Treml, J Roberts, K Crosby, D Roy, DP Tittensor.


The hypothesis that pelagic larval duration (PLD) influences range size in marine species with a benthic adult stage and a pelagic larval period is intuitively attractive; yet, studies conducted to date have failed to support it. A possibility for the lack of a relationship between PLD and range size may stem from the failure of past studies to account for the effect of species evolutionary ages, which may add to the dispersal capabilities of species. However, if dispersal over ecological (i.e. PLD) and across evolutionary (i.e. species evolutionary age) time scales continues to show no effect on range size then an outstanding question is why? Here we collected data on PLD, evolutionary ages and range sizes of seven tropical fish families (five families were reef-associated and two have dwell demersal habitats) to explore the independent and interactive effects of PLD and evolutionary age on range size. Separate analyses on each family showed that even after controlling for evolutionary age, PLD has an insignificant or a very small effect on range size. To shed light on why dispersal has such a limited effect on range size, we developed a global ocean circulation model to quantify the connectivity among tropical reefs relative to the potential dispersal conferred by PLD. We found that although there are several areas of great isolation in the tropical oceans, most reef habitats are within the reach of most species given their PLDs. These results suggest that the lack of habitat isolation can potentially render the constraining effect of dispersal on range size insignificant and explain why dispersal does not relate to range size in reef fishes.

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