The dispersal of marine organisms can be restricted by a set of isolation mechanisms including hard barriers or hydrological features. In the Western Atlantic Ocean, the Amazon River discharge has been shown to act as a biogeographical barrier responsible for the differences in reef fish communities between Caribbean Sea and Northeast Brazil continental shelves. Here, we compare the diversity of all Animalia phyla from biogeographic ecoregions along the Tropical Western Atlantic continental shelf to test the hypothesis that the Amazon River plume spatially structures species diversity. For that, we used beta diversity estimators and multivariate ecological analysis on a database of species occurrence of the whole animal kingdom including 175,477 occurrences of 8,375 species from six ecoregions along the Western Tropical Atlantic. Results of the whole animal kingdom and the richest phyla showed that the Caribbean Sea and Tropical Brazil ecoregions are isolated by the Amazon River Plume, broadening and confirming the hypothesis that it acts as a soft barrier to animal dispersal in the Western Tropical Atlantic. Species sharing is larger northwestwards, in direction of the Caribbean than the opposite direction. Beyond species isolation due to local characteristics such as low salinity and high turbidity, our results suggest the dominant northwestward currents probably play a major role in animal dispersion: it enhances the flux of larvae and other planktonic organisms with reduced mobility from Brazil to Caribbean and hinders their contrary movement. Thus, the Amazon area is a strong barrier for taxa with reduced dispersal capacity, while species of pelagic taxa with active swimming may transpose it more easily.
Tosetto E.G., Bertrand A., Neumann-Leitão S., Nogueira Júnior M. 2022. The Amazon River plume, a barrier to animal dispersal in the Western Tropical Atlantic. Scientific Reports, 12: 537.