Most marine organisms disperse via ocean currents as larvae, so it is often assumed that larval-stage duration is the primary determinant of geographic range size. However, empirical tests of this relationship have yielded mixed results, and alternative hypotheses have rarely been considered. Here we assess the relative influence of adult and larval-traits on geographic range size using a global dataset encompassing 590 species of tropical reef fishes in 47 families, the largest compilation of such data to date for any marine group. We analyze this database using linear mixed-effect models to control for phylogeny and geographical limits on range size. Our analysis indicates that three adult traits likely to affect the capacity of new colonizers to survive and establish reproductive populations (body size, schooling behavior, and nocturnal activity) are equal or better predictors of geographic range size than pelagic larval duration. We conclude that adult life-history traits that affect the postdispersal persistence of new populations are primary determinants of successful range extension and, consequently, of geographic range size among tropical reef fishes.
Keywords: colonization; macroecology; marine dispersal.