MEPS 280:239-247 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps280239

Checking the landing zone: Do invertebrate larvae avoid settling near superior spatial competitors?

Stephan G. Bullard1,3, Robert B. Whitlatch1,*, Richard W. Osman2

1Department of Marine Sciences, University of Connecticut, Groton, Connecticut 06340, USA
2Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, PO Box 28, 647 Contees Wharf Road, Edgewater, Maryland 21037, USA
3Present address: University of Hartford Hillyer College, 200 Bloomfield Av., West Hartford, Connecticut 06117, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: It has been hypothesized that larvae of benthic marine invertebrates may reduce their risk of post-settlement competition by avoiding superior competitors during settlement. Few studies, however, have directly compared the levels of larval settlement close to and away from established competitors. We conducted experiments in the New England subtidal to determine whether larvae of fouling organisms would avoid substrata (100 cm2 PVC panels) with established adult colonies of the tunicates Botryllus schlosseri, Botrylloides violaceus, and Diplosoma listerianum compared to control substrata without tunicates. After panels had been exposed for 1 wk in the field, we assessed larval settlement on the entire surface of panels and within 1 cm of established tunicate colonies. We also monitored the fate of larvae that settled near established tunicates to determine if different tunicate species posed different risks of overgrowth to newly settled juveniles. Pair-wise comparisons revealed only 1 significant difference (out of 48 total analyses) when we examined levels of settlement on panels with tunicates relative to bare controls. We also found no significant differences in the number of settlers overgrown by different tunicate species. Thus, our results suggest that invertebrate larvae do not avoid settling near established dominant competitors (i.e. colonial tunicates). These results are in contrast to a previous study which had shown that larvae of competitively inferior species avoided settling near B. schlosseri.

KEY WORDS: Ascidians · Competition · Cues · Larvae · Overgrowth · Settlement · Tunicates

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