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Larval fish assemblages and mesoscale oceanographic structure along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System

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The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) is of high ecological and economic importance to the western Caribbean region, and contains spawning sites for a number of reef fish species. Despite this, little is known of the distribution and transport of pelagic fish larvae in the area, and basic in situ information on larval fish assemblages is lacking. Here we describe the results of two biological oceanography research cruises conducted in winter‐spring of 2006 and 2007, focusing on larval fish assemblages. We use multivariate assemblage analyses to examine vertical and horizontal distribution characteristics of larval fish assemblages, to highlight key distinguishing taxa, and to relate these to the observed oceanographic structure. Our results showed a general separation between the Gulf of Honduras region, which was characterized by weaker currents and high abundances of inshore and estuarine taxa (Eleotridae, Priacanthidae), and the northern MBRS, which was subject to strong northward flow and contained a mixture of mesopelagic and reef‐associated taxa (Myctophidae, Sparidae). Although distinct patterns of vertical distribution were observed among taxa, both shallow and deep living larvae were broadly distributed throughout the study area. Analysis of historical drifter tracks highlighted the strong northward flow and low retention conditions typically present along the northern MBRS, as well as potential connectivity between the western Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2013-09-01

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