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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Feb 5;105(5):1561-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0707676105. Epub 2008 Jan 29.

Postsettlement survival linked to larval life in a marine fish.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9610, USA.


There is a growing realization that the scale and degree of population connectivity are crucial to the dynamics and persistence of spatially structured populations. For marine organisms with complex life cycles, experiences during larval life may influence phenotypic traits, performance, and the probability of postsettlement survival. For a Caribbean reef fish (Thalassoma bifasciatum) on an oceanic island, we used otolith (ear stone) elemental profiles of lead (Pb) to assign recent settlers to a group that developed in waters elevated in Pb concentrations throughout larval life (i.e., nearshore signature) and a group that developed in waters depleted in Pb (i.e., offshore signature), potentially dispersing from upstream sources across oceanic waters. Larval history influenced early life history traits: offshore developers initially grew slowly but compensated with fast growth upon entering nearshore waters and metamorphosed in better condition with higher energy reserves. As shown in previous studies, local production contributed heavily to settlement: at least 45% of settlers developed nearshore. However, only 23% of survivors after the first month displayed a nearshore otolith profile. Therefore, settlers with different larval histories suffered differential mortality. Importantly, selective mortality was mediated by larval history, in that the postsettlement intensity of selection was much greater for fish that developed nearshore, potentially because they had developed in a less selectively intense larval environment. Given the potential for asymmetrical postsettlement source-based survival, successful spatial management of marine populations may require knowledge of "realized connectivity" on ecological scales, which takes into account the postsettlement fitness of individuals from different sources.

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