Children of baby boomers aren't the only ones who have taken to setting up home far from where their parents live. A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documents how larval dispersal connects marine fish populations in a network of marine protected areas information that is critical for fisheries managers.
"What this study does for the first time is to demonstrate that a percentage of larvae spawned on one marine reserve actually make it to another marine reserve up to 35 km away," says Simon Thorrold, co-author of the study and a senior scientist in the Biology Department of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Thorrold and his colleagues from the French National Center for Scientific Research and James Cook University in Australia studied the clownfish (Amphiprion percula) in Kimbe Island, New Britain, Papua New Guinea. This coral reef fish is the same species as Disney's famed Nemo, but real clownfish have a far different life history than animated ones. Clownfish parents live in a particular sea anemone and spawn eggs that are attached to the seafloor. About a week later, larvae hatch from the eggs and spread their fins, making their way into the great, open ocean.
Until now, the question of just how far and wide these larval fish travel, or disperse, has been the subject of much theoretical modeling, but very little empirical evidence. After about two weeks, juvenile clownfish find a comfortable-looking sea anemone, set up housekeeping, and settle in with a mate for the rest of their lives.
Using a technique related to DNA fingerprinting called DNA parentage analysis, Thorrold and his colleagues studied genetic markers in more than 500 potential clownfish parents from Kimbe Island and 400 newly settled juveniles from Kimbe Island and surrounding marine reserves. Astonishingly, they were able to identify the parents of 30 percent of the juveniles. Thorrold
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution