Coral Reefs

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 593–605 | Cite as

A simple approximation for larval retention around reefs

  • Paulina Cetina-Heredia
  • Sean R. Connolly


Estimating larval retention at individual reefs by local scale three-dimensional flows is a significant problem for understanding, and predicting, larval dispersal. Determining larval dispersal commonly involves the use of computationally demanding and expensively calibrated/validated hydrodynamic models that resolve reef wake eddies. This study models variation in larval retention times for a range of reef shapes and circulation regimes, using a reef-scale three-dimensional hydrodynamic model. It also explores how well larval retention time can be estimated based on the “Island Wake Parameter”, a measure of the degree of flow turbulence in the wake of reefs that is a simple function of flow speed, reef dimension, and vertical diffusion. The mean residence times found in the present study (0.48–5.64 days) indicate substantial potential for self-recruitment of species whose larvae are passive, or weak swimmers, for the first several days after release. Results also reveal strong and significant relationships between the Island Wake Parameter and mean residence time, explaining 81–92% of the variability in retention among reefs across a range of unidirectional flow speeds and tidal regimes. These findings suggest that good estimates of larval retention may be obtained from relatively coarse-scale characteristics of the flow, and basic features of reef geomorphology. Such approximations may be a valuable tool for modeling connectivity and meta-population dynamics over large spatial scales, where explicitly characterizing fine-scale flows around reef requires a prohibitive amount of computation and extensive model calibration.


Residence time Island wake parameter Larval retention Connectivity Coral reef Eddies 



We are grateful to Dr. Mike Herzfeld for support running SHOC and initial ideas for the manuscript. We thank Dr. Peter Ridd for valuable comments during the development this work. Thanks to Geoff Millar and Simon Spagnol for IT support at AIMS. This research was funded by the Australian Research Council, James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. P.C-H. received financial support from CONACyT and SEP (Mexico).

Supplementary material

338_2011_749_MOESM1_ESM.eps (831 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (EPS 830 kb)
338_2011_749_MOESM2_ESM.doc (53 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 53 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.School of Engineering and Physical SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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