In the marine context, information about dispersal is essential for the design of networks of marine protected areas (MPAs). Generally, most of the dispersal of demersal fishes is thought to be driven by the transport of eggs and larvae in currents, with the potential contribution of dispersal in later life stages relatively minimal.
Using otolith chemistry analyses, we estimate dispersal patterns across a spatial scale of approximately 180 km at both propagule (i.e. eggs and larvae) and juvenile (i.e. between settlement and recruitment) stages of a Mediterranean coastal fishery species, the two-banded seabream Diplodus vulgaris. We detected three major natal sources of propagules replenishing local populations in the entire study area, suggesting that propagule dispersal distance extends to at least 90 km. For the juvenile stage, we detected dispersal of up to 165 km. Our work highlights the surprising and significant role of dispersal during the juvenile life stages as an important mechanism connecting populations. Such new insights are crucial for creating effective management strategies (e.g. MPAs and MPA networks) and to gain support from policymakers and stakeholders, highlighting that MPA benefits can extend well beyond MPA borders, and not only via dispersal of eggs and larvae, but also through movement by juveniles.