Localized Dispersal and Recruitment in Great Barrier Reef Corals: The Helix Experiment

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Science  18 Mar 1988:
Vol. 239, Issue 4846, pp. 1422-1424
DOI: 10.1126/science.239.4846.1422


To examine the problem of how far coral larvae disperse from their natal reef, coral recruitment densities were experimentally determined at distances up to 5 kilometers from a small, relatively isolated platform reef, Helix Reef, on the central Great Barrier Reef for 7 months. High concentrations of recruits, accounting for up to 40 percent of all recruitment, were found downstream of the reef in areas of high water residence time, suggesting that near-field(proximal) circulation has a profound influence on dispersal and recruitment of coral larvae. Coral recruitment declined logarithmically with distance from the reef, decreasing by an order of magnitude at radial distances of only 600 to 1200 meters. On an ecological time scale, advective dispersal of semipassive marine larvae with relatively short planktonic lives(minimally days) may be extensive, but success of recruitment is highly limited. Through evolutionary time, sufficient dispersal occurs to ensure gene flow to reef tracts hundreds or possibly thousands of kilometers apart. In the short term, however, coral reefs appear to be primarily self-seeded with respect to coral larvae.