Tropical Transpacific Shore Fishes

Robertson, D Ross
Grove, Jack S.
McCosker, John E.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Hawai'i Press
Starting Page
Ending Page
Alternative Title
Tropical transpacific fishes occur on both sides of the world's largest deep-water barrier to the migration of marine shore organisms, the 4,000- to 7,000-km-wide Eastern Pacific Barrier (EPB). They include 64 epipelagic oceanic species and 126 species of shore fishes known from both the tropical eastern Pacific (TEP) and the central and West Pacific. The broad distributions of 19 of 39 circumglobal transpacific species of shore fishes offer no clues to the origin of their TEP populations; TEP populations of another 19 with disjunct Pacific distributions may represent isthmian relicts that originated from New World populations separated by the closure of the Central American isthmus. Eighty species of transpacific shore fishes likely migrated eastward to the TEP, and 22 species of shore fishes (12 of them isthmian relicts) and one oceanic species likely migrated westward from the TEP. Transpacific species constitute ~12% of the TEP's tropical shore fishes and 15-20% of shore fishes at islands on the western edge of the EPB. Eastward migrants constitute ~7% of the TEP's shore-fish fauna, and a similar proportion of TEP endemics may be derived from recent eastward immigration. Representation of transpacific species in different elements of the TEP fauna relates strongly to adult pelagic dispersal ability-they constitute almost all the epipelagic oceanic species, ~25% of the inshore pelagic species, but only 10% of the demersal shore fishes. Taxa that have multiple pelagic life-history stages are best represented among the transpacific species. Among demersal teleosts that have pelagic larvae, pelagic spawners are better represented than demersal spawners among transpacific species, perhaps because offshore larval development and longer pelagic larval durations provide the former with greater dispersal capabilities. There are strong phylogenetic effects on representation in the transpacific fauna: (1) elasmobranchs are proportionally better represented than teleosts, even teleosts with more pelagic life-history stages; (2) a pelagic juvenile stage with great dispersal potential allows tetraodontiforms that produce demersal or pelagic eggs to be well represented; and (3) various speciose central Pacific families with "adequate" larval dispersal characteristics lack transpacific species. El Niiios potentially enhance eastward migration by increasing eastward flow and halving transit times across the EPB. However, that effect may be offset by low productivity and high temperatures in those eastbound flows. There is little clear evidence of strongly increased migration across the EPB during El Niiios, including recent extreme events (1982-1983 and 1997-1998). During such events shore fishes in the TEP experience range expansions and become locally abundant at marginal areas such as the Galapagos, changes that can be confused with increased migration across the EPB. Although there is a strong bias toward eastward migration among the transpacific shore fishes, there likely is much more westward migration than previously realized: 20-25% of transpacific species may have migrated in that direction. Stronger eastbound than westbound currents can account for this bias. Westward migrants have better developed pelagic dispersal characteristics than many eastward migrants, suggesting that westward migration is more difficult. Many westward migrants associate with flotsam and flotsam-mediated migration is more likely to be westward. All westward migrants occur at Hawai'i, but only about one-fifth of them at the Marquesas. This bias may be due to: Hawai'i being a larger target and in the path of most of the flotsam dispersal from the TEP; an eastward current that impinges on the Marquesas, reducing westward arrivals; and most propagules dispersing toward the tropical Marquesas originating in the temperate eastern Pacific. However, the Hawaiian Islands also are much better sampled than the Marquesas. Although the TEP reef-fish fauna may be depauperate relative to that of the Indo-Malayan "center of diversity," it is as rich as the faunas of islands on the western side of the EPB. Hence a preponderance of eastward migration does not represent a response to a richness gradient across that barrier. There is little evidence that a paucity of ecological groups in the native TEP fauna is primarily responsible for the structure of the eastward-migrant fauna. Rather, eastward migrants may simply represent a cross section of those in the donor fauna, tempered by phylogenetic variation in dispersal ability. Because few central Pacific fishes can live only on live corals and coral reefs, the rarity of such reefs in the TEP is unlikely to strongly limit eastward migration. Differences between oceanic and adjacent continental reef-fish faunas in the West Pacific indicate that each is strongly tied to its respective habitat. Hence, the rarity in the TEP of the (overwhelmingly) most abundant habitat present in the central Pacific-tropical oceanic reefs-may strongly limit migration in both directions across the EPB: there is little suitable habitat for eastward migrants in the TEP and few suitable species and tiny source populations for westward migrants. The global effects that oceanic/continental habitat differences have on reef-fish biogeography need further assessment. Genetic data on ~18% of the transpacific species indicate: that conspecific populations of oceanic species (especially) and shore fishes are genetically well connected across the EPB; that circumtropical taxa in the TEP include isolated isthmian relicts and recent eastward migrants; that all five TEP species of one circumtropical genus (Thalassoma) were derived by several eastward invasions after the closure of the Isthmus of Panama; that some isolated Hawaiian central Pacific populations were established by postisthmian invasion from the TEP; and that Indo-central Pacific species unsuspectedly can co-occur with their endemic sibling sisters in the TEP. Genetic data support distributional data that indicate a strong preponderance of eastward migration across the EPB but also more westward migration than previously thought. Future genetic studies should resolve a question that distributional data cannot: how many widespread presumed eastward-migrant transpacific species actually originated by westward migration from the TEP?
Robertson DR, Grove JS, McCosker JE. 2004. Tropical transpacific shore fishes. Pac Sci 58(4): 507-565.
Geographic Location
Time Period
Related To
Table of Contents
Rights Holder
Local Contexts
Email if you need this content in ADA-compliant format.