Abstract Although recruitment of pelagic larvae is a fundamental and well-documented process in the dynamics of benthic marine populations, identifying the sources of recruitment, or the degree to which populations are connected via dispersal of larvae, has remained elusive for most marine taxa. In this study we used natural environmental markers (trace elements) recorded in fish otoliths (ear stones) as tags of natal origin. Specifically, we used the otolith core and edge chemistries of a locally endemic wrasse (Coris bulbifrons) from Lord Howe Island (LHI), Australia, and a widely distributed species (Coris picta) from three potential mainland source regions, to determine the likely sources of recruitment to C. picta populations on LHI. The use of a local endemic species, which is by definition self-recruiting, is a novel approach for ground-truthing the dispersal history of non-endemic coral reef fish. Discriminant function analyses were able to separate LHI from mainland fish, using both edge and core signatures, with a high degree of accuracy, suggesting at least some of the C. picta collected on LHI were of local origin. This result was corroborated when half of the C. bulbifrons and LHI C. picta were introduced as unknowns into a discriminant function analysis using the remaining C. bulbifrons, LHI C. picta, and the mainland C. picta as a training data set. Overall, our findings suggest that both long distance dispersal and local retention are important sources of recruitment to populations of C. picta on LHI and that otolith chemistry of endemic species could be a useful benchmark for determining the prevalence of self-recruitment in insular populations of other widespread species.