• community ecology;
  • DNA barcoding;
  • fish;
  • wildlife management


Marine fishes exhibit spectacular phenotypic changes during their ontogeny, and the identification of their early stages is challenging due to the paucity of diagnostic morphological characters at the species level. Meanwhile, the importance of early life stages in dispersal and connectivity has recently experienced an increasing interest in conservation programmes for coral reef fishes. This study aims at assessing the effectiveness of DNA barcoding for the automated identification of coral reef fish larvae through large-scale ecosystemic sampling. Fish larvae were mainly collected using bongo nets and light traps around Moorea between September 2008 and August 2010 in 10 sites distributed in open waters. Fish larvae ranged from 2 to 100 mm of total length, with the most abundant individuals being <5 mm. Among the 505 individuals DNA barcoded, 373 larvae (i.e. 75%) were identified to the species level. A total of 106 species were detected, among which 11 corresponded to pelagic and bathypelagic species, while 95 corresponded to species observed at the adult stage on neighbouring reefs. This study highlights the benefits and pitfalls of using standardized molecular systems for species identification and illustrates the new possibilities enabled by DNA barcoding for future work on coral reef fish larval ecology.