Marine biologists probe 'black box' mysteries of the sea

ee locations had remained close to the shores where they were spawned.

"What we thought we knew about larval biology and the currents out there in the sea was wrong," Palumbi noted. "We found that there are local populations that are not mixing up and down the coast over scales of hundreds of miles. Instead they're mixing at scales of about 6 to 12 miles – which means that the scale over which you should be managing these ecosystems also should be 6 to 12 miles. That's the scale at which you would manage a human community – a town or a county, not a whole state. That's the real surprising news about our study: The first time we looked at the genetics with high-resolution techniques, we saw a pattern different than previous assumptions."

Neighborhood watch

DNA analyses of other marine populations around the world have yielded similar results. In a study published in the Jan. 3 edition of Science, researchers described finding genetically distinct populations of gobies – a small tropical fish – living within 13 miles of one another in coastal waters off Puerto Rico. Goby larvae remain adrift in ocean currents for three weeks, but instead of traveling hundreds of miles, the tiny creatures appear to stay close to their coastal birthplace.

"The ocean is quite likely to turn out to be collections of neighborhoods," said Palumbi, who last month authored a Pew Oceans Commission report calling for the creation of a network of marine reserves from Hawaii to Florida.

"If we're going to manage the ocean, it's really going to be on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis," he added. "The very existence of those neighborhoods is a very different way of looking at the ocean than we thought before. Ten years ago, the conventional wisdom was that these populations were just one big mix up and down the coast - and that's how fisheries are managed at the state and local level. The fact these neighborhoods exist means

Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

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