Reef fish movements over short and long time frames have important consequences for identifying essential fish habitat, quantifying ecological flows across the seascape and designing marine reserves. We use grunts (Haemulidae) as a representative model group for quantifying movement in terms of distances, time scales, temporal patterns, habitat associations and controls. Here, we provide a review based on recent studies and our own experience. The ritualized, twilight feeding migrations of grunts represent an important mechanism for transferring nutrients and organic matter across habitat boundaries, with movements on the order of 100–300 m. Both compass orientation and vision are used for navigation during feeding migrations. Feeding movements of adults are less ritualized in both space and time and typically occur on the same scale of distance as juveniles, although longer excursions have been documented. Ontogenetic migrations occur over years and take the form of discrete habitat shifts, with most individuals moving progressively offshore. Distances and pathways followed by fish will depend on the exact width of the shelf and distribution of suitable habitats. Transplant experiments suggest there are significant barriers to fish migration, and migration corridors, especially reef margins, seem to be important in determining the direction of ontogenetic habitat shifts, but these may be disrupted by environmental perturbations. Theoretical considerations relative to barrier perception and growth-survival trade-offs appear to explain normal movements of grunts and their responses to environmental perturbations, but lack of information on how fish may sense new locations at distance prevents the full use of theory to generate rules of migration covering timing, distance and direction.
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Vol. 45 • No. 2–3