Assessing the influence of behavioural parameterisation on the dispersal of larvae in marine systems
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Predicting dispersal and quantifying ecological connectivity are increasingly referenced as fundamental to understanding how biodiversity is structured across space and time. Dispersal models can provide insight, but their predictions are influenced by our capacity to simulate the biology and physics known to influence dispersal. In a marine context, vertical swimming behaviour is considered important in influencing the spatial organisation of species across seascapes, but the mechanisms underpinning these movements remain unresolved, making it unclear how best to incorporate behaviour within models. Here, using a 3-D hydrodynamic model coupled with a Lagrangian particle tracker, we show how different modelled larval behaviours, alongside spatial and temporal hydrodynamic changes, influence larval dispersal predictions. Additionally, we compare the application of a novel approach of reverse-engineered larval swimming behaviour against two commonly modelled behaviours: passive dispersal and tidal vertical migration (TVM). We used statistical models (LME and GAM) to test the effects of change in tidal state conditions, season, and planktonic larval duration in conjunction with behavioural parameters on dispersal. For shorter PLDs (i.e., 1 day), we find that passive models match ‘behaving’ model outputs, but for longer PLDs, excluding behaviour leads to overestimates of dispersal; an effect that increases with time. Our results highlight the sensitivity of biophysical models to behavioural inputs, specifically how vertical migration behaviour can significantly reduce dispersal distance - especially for species with longer planktonic durations. This study demonstrates the disproportionate effects that even a single behaviour - vertical swimming - can have on model predictions, our understanding of ecosystem functioning, and ultimately, the ecological coherence of marine systems.
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