MEPS 191:153-161 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps191153

Susceptibility of invertebrate larvae to predators: how common are post-capture larval defenses?

Stephan G. Bullard1,*, Niels L. Lindquist1, Mark E. Hay2

1University of North Carolina, Institute of Marine Sciences, 3431 Arendell St., Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA
2School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0230, USA

ABSTRACT: Predation is believed to be a major source of mortality for larvae of benthic invertebrates, but the palatability of larvae commonly found in the water column has rarely been assessed. Larval palatability assays were conducted by collecting live invertebrate larvae from a temperate field site and offering them to a suite of common predators (the fishes Lagodon rhomboides, Leiostomus xanthurus, and Monacanthus hispidus and the hard coral Oculina arbuscula). By crushing larvae that were rejected intact and re-offering them to predators, it was possible to distinguish between defenses based on morphological and chemical characteristics of the larvae. Additionally, abundance data were collected for taxonomic groups of larvae at our sampling location. The majority of invertebrate larvae were palatable to consumers. Most predators readily consumed polychaete larvae, barnacle nauplii, bivalve veligers, shrimp zoeae, crab megalopae, phoronid actinotrochs, and hemichordate tornaria (which together accounted for 65% of meroplankton abundance), suggesting that these larvae lacked effective morphological or chemical defenses. Against at least 1 fish predator, a significant number of gastropod veligers, barnacle cyprids, crab zoeae, and stomatopod larvae (which accounted for 34% of meroplankton abundance) appeared to be morphologically defended. Larvae from these groups tended to be rejected whole, but were consumed by fishes once they were crushed. A significant number of nemertean pilidia, asteroid bipinnaria, and cnidarian planulae (which accounted for only 0.2% of meroplankton abundance) were rejected both whole and crushed, suggesting that some species or individuals within these taxa may be chemically defended. Thus, the majority of larvae from this assemblage of temperate meroplankton lacked physical or chemical defenses against potential predators (3 fishes and 1 cnidarian). Among the remaining larvae, physical resistance to predators was much more common than chemical resistance.

KEY WORDS: Invertebrate larvae · Chemical ecology · Morphological defense · Predator-prey

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