Abstract: The fate of fish larvae during the pelagic phase has profound effects on replenishment of marine populations that are critical for human and ecosystem health. The survival and transport of larvae are expected to be tightly coupled to oceanic features. But, for the majority of fish species we have a poor understanding of where larvae go and what pelagic habitats they use. Therefore, we surveyed surface-dwelling zooplankton and ichthyoplankton communities inside and outside of surface slicks along the west coast of the Island of Hawai‘i. Here, we provide evidence that surface slicks, a ubiquitous ocean convergence feature, provide nursery habitat for more than 100 species of commercially and ecologically important fishes in Hawaii. Building on foundational research, our work shows that slicks are oases for food and shelter in an otherwise fluid desert, and that many larvae depend strongly on these nursery habitats for growth and survival. By providing these survival advantages, surface slicks enhance larval supply and replenishment of adult populations from coral reef, epipelagic, and deep-water ecosystems. Our findings suggest that slicks play an underappreciated, yet critically important role in enhancing ecosystem and fisheries productivity in tropical marine systems.
Biography: Dr. Jonathan Whitney is a Marine Ecologist and Geneticist in the Ecosystem Sciences Division of NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. His research is broadly focused on population and community ecology of coral reef and pelagic fishes in tropical ecosystems, merging disciplines in biological oceanography, population genetics & genomics, early life history, and community ecology. He received his B.A. in Zoology from Prescott College in Arizona, where he spent most of his time in the Gulf of California. He then earned his PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his dissertation explored the origin and maintenance of coral reef fish biodiversity. Dr. Whitney then completed a joint Postdoctoral Research Fellowship with NOAA and the University of Hawaii, during which he investigated the biophysical interactions with larval fish and surface slicks, which will be the core topic of this seminar.