A central goal of marine ecology is to achieve a mechanistic understanding of the factors regulating the abundance and distribution of marine populations. One critical component of the above goal is to quantify rates of exchange, or connectivity among sub-populations of marine organisms via larval dispersal. Theoretical studies suggest that these linkages play a fundamental role in local and meta-population dynamics, community structure, genetic diversity, and the resiliency of populations to human exploitation [Fogarty, 1998].
Understanding population connectivity is also key in efforts to develop spatial management methods for marine-capture fisheries, including the design of networks of marine reserves [Sala et al., 2002]. We have made considerable advances in our understanding of the biology of juvenile and adult life history stages through experimental marine ecology However, there has been no concomitant increase in our knowledge of the biological and physical processes that determine the extent to which marine populations are connected via larval dispersal.