Different dispersal abilities enable reef fish to coexist

The researchers in this study describe a unique and robust mechanism for coexistence: Species that differ only in their dispersal abilities can coexist if habitat patches are distributed at irregular distances. This mechanism creates complex patterns of coexistence that are robust to substantial environmental variability.
The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is noted for its diversity of reef fish and its complex arrangement of reef habitat. This analysis demonstrates that it is different pelagic larval durations that are enabling fish species to stably coexist. Further, coexisting species on the GBR often dominate different subregions, defined primarily by cross-shelf position.

Interspecific differences in dispersal ability generate similar coexistence patterns when dispersal is influenced by larval behavior and variable oceanographic conditions.

Many marine and terrestrial ecosystems are characterized by patchy habitat distributions and contain coexisting species that have different dispersal abilities. This coexistence mechanism is therefore likely to have ecological relevance beyond reef fish.


More info: Michael Bode mbode@unimelb.edu.au


Bode M, L Bode & PR Armsworth (2011). Different dispersal abilities allow reef fish to coexist. PNAS 108: 16317-16321.

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