MEPS 255:145-153 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps255145

Variation in the dispersal potential of non-feeding invertebrate larvae: the desperate larva hypothesis and larval size

Dustin J. Marshall*, Michael J. Keough

Zoology Department, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

ABSTRACT: For many species of marine invertebrates, variability in larval settlement behaviour appears to be the rule rather than the exception. This variability has the potential to affect larval dispersal, because settlement behaviour will influence the length of time larvae are in the plankton. Despite the ubiquity and importance of this variability, relatively few sources of variation in larval settlement behaviour have been identified. One important factor that can affect larval settlement behaviour is the nutritional state of larvae. Non-feeding larvae often become less discriminating in their Œchoice¹ of settlement substrate, i.e. more desperate to settle, when energetic reserves run low. We tested whether variation in larval size (and presumably in nutritional reserves) also affects the settlement behaviour of 3 species of colonial marine invertebrate larvae, the bryozoans Bugula neritina and Watersipora subtorquata and the ascidian Diplosoma listerianum. For all 3 species, larger larvae delayed settlement for longer in the absence of settlement cues, and settlement of Bugula neritina larvae was accelerated by the presence of settlement cues, independently of larval size. In the field, larger W. subtorquata larvae also took longer to settle than smaller larvae and were more discriminating towards settlement surfaces. These differences in settlement time are likely to result in differences in the distance that larvae disperse in the field. We suggest that species that produce non-feeding larvae can affect the dispersal potential of their offspring by manipulating larval size and thus larval desperation.


KEY WORDS: Dispersal potential · Offspring size · Maternal effects


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