Research project: Larval-fish ecology - connectivity and biodiversity in coral reef systems


Start date:

Museum investigators

External investigators

  • Dave Booth, University of Technology Sydney
  • Bronwyn Gillanders, Adelaide University
  • Will Ferierra, University of Sydney
  • Heather Patterson, BRS
  • Lynne van her Werden, James Cook University

Funded by

  • Pending- Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (ARC)


The pelagic larval  phase of demersal fishes has been a black box, with very little known about what actually takes place between spawning and settlement, and in particular, about the pathways of dispersal.  Dispersal is a biophysical process, and achieving the sort of understanding about dispersal and population connectivity needed by ecologists and managers requires integration of detailed biological and physical information that has hitherto been lacking. 

We will focus on the biology of dispersal using information gained from the larvae themselves by taking full advantage of advances in otolith analysis to extract much of the potential information about the pelagic larval stage that is locked away in these tiny ear bones.  Recent advances in understanding larval behaviour relevant to dispersal will also be brought to bear. 

To reveal the pathways of dispersal, this unique biological information will be combined with the latest methods of understanding the oceanography of dispersal.  Satellite oceanography and detailed modeling will provide essential information about both physics (for instance, current trajectories, temperature) and biology (e.g., chlorophyll a).  This integration will document the spatial scale of larval dispersal, and variations in it: essential inputs for successful management.  Both standard and innovative means of assessing the condition of larvae at settlement will reveal how the dispersal pathways we have documented influence the growth and condition of larvae at the end of their pelagic sojourn.  This project will usher in a new era of understanding the dynamics of larval dispersal of marine fishes.

Dr Jeff Leis , Senior Fellow
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