Incomplete datasets obscure associations between traits affecting dispersal ability and geographic range size of reef fishes in the Tropical Eastern Pacific

Adriana Alzate, Fons van der Plas, Fernando A Zapata, Dries Bonte, Rampal S Etienne

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Dispersal is thought to be an important process determining range size, especially for species in highly spatially structured habitats, such as tropical reef fishes. Despite intensive research efforts, there is conflicting evidence about the role of dispersal in determining range size. We hypothesize that traits related to dispersal drive range sizes, but that complete and comprehensive datasets are essential for detecting relationships between species' dispersal ability and range size. We investigate the roles of six traits affecting several stages of dispersal (adult mobility, spawning mode, pelagic larval duration (PLD), body size, aggregation behavior, and circadian activity), in explaining range size variation of reef fishes in the Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP). All traits, except for PLD (148 species), had data for all 497 species in the region. Using a series of statistical models, we investigated which traits were associated with large range sizes, when analyzing all TEP species or only species with PLD data. Furthermore, using null models, we analyzed whether the PLD-subset is representative of the regional species pool. Several traits affecting dispersal ability were strongly associated with range size, although these relationships could not be detected when using the PLD-subset. Pelagic spawners (allowing for passive egg dispersal) had on average 56% larger range sizes than nonpelagic spawners. Species with medium or high adult mobility had on average a 25% or 33% larger range, respectively, than species with low mobility. Null models showed that the PLD-subset was nonrepresentative of the regional species pool, explaining why model outcomes using the PLD-subset differed from the ones based on the complete dataset. Our results show that in the TEP, traits affecting dispersal ability are important in explaining range size variation. Using a regionally complete dataset was crucial for detecting the theoretically expected, but so far empirically unresolved, relationship between dispersal and range size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1567-1577
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2019


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