Mesoscale circulation determines broad spatio-temporal settlement patterns of lobster

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The influence of physical oceanographic processes on the dispersal of larvae is critical for understanding the ecology of species and for anticipating settlement into fisheries to aid long-term sustainable harvest. This study examines the mechanisms by which ocean currents shape larval dispersal and supply to the continental shelf-break, and the extent to which circulation determines settlement patterns using Sagmariasus verreauxi (Eastern Rock Lobster, ERL) as a model species. Despite the large range of factors that can impact larval dispersal, we show that within a Western Boundary Current system, mesoscale circulation explains broad spatio-temporal patterns of observed settlement including inter-annual and decadal variability along 500 km of coastline. To discern links between ocean circulation and settlement, we correlate a unique 21- year dataset of observed lobster settlement (i.e., early juvenile & pueruli abundance), with simulated larval settlement. Simulations use outputs of an eddy-resolving, data-assimilated, hydrodynamic model, incorporating ERL spawning strategy and larval duration. The latitude where the East Australian Current (EAC) deflects east and separates from the continent determines the limit between regions of low and high ERL settlement. We found that years with a persistent EAC flow have low settlement while years when mesoscale eddies prevail have high settlement; in fact, mesoscale eddies facilitate the transport of larvae to the continental shelf-break from offshore. Proxies for settlement based on circulation features observed with satellites could therefore be useful in predicting broadscale patterns of settlement orders of magnitudes to guide harvest limits.




Cetina-Heredia, P., Roughan, M., Liggins, G., Coleman, M. A., & Jeffs, A. (2019). Mesoscale circulation determines broad spatio-temporal settlement patterns of lobster. PLoS ONE, 14(2).

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