Mechanisms of Larval Dispersal and Settlement of Reef Organisms
This topic submitted by Bridget Hohner (
Bridgethohner@yahoo.com) at 9:26 PM on 3/30/06.
Beautiful Brain and Boulder Corals at the French Bay Wall,
30 m deep, San Salvador, Bahamas.
My topic is Larval Dispersal and Settlement in Coral Reefs. I want to discuss the mechanisms by which reef fish, invertebrates and coral larvae locate a settlement site and the use of sensory cues.
Coral reef community structure
High productivity, high species diversity (species from 32 phyla represented)
Complex biological associations
Reefs are topographically complex
Many strata Ð many different species of fish and invertebrates in different strata
Corals are framework of reef- they precipitate calcium carbonate moving living
Zooxanthellae-symbiotic algae providing nutrients to coral
Herbivores exert strong effects on species composition of reef
Space limited- interspecific competition (overgrowth, shading, aggressive
New recruits settle in community to replenish reef populations
New recruits must survive a planktonic larval phase, and disperse by active or
Larva are preyed upon heavily
Reef fish life cycle and larval dispersal
High fecundity, iteroparous
Fertilization is external, many species forming aggregations to spawn, sometimes
preferring to spawn in pairs
Majority of reef fish take little or no care of young
*NOTE: some variation among life histories, this suggests adaptation
Temporal variation in spawning
Bipartite with dispersal larval phase
Most species of reef fish larvae are advected from the reef, forcing them to
find a way to return to the reef
Pelagic larval phase to juvenile to sedentary reef phase
Larval phase of most species Ð 3-6 weeks
Size- 1-20mm long
Active dispersal (behavioral and physiological studies present evidence
of active dispersal)
It was initially thought that pelagic fish larvae were dispersed only through
Advection, however advection alone cannot explain recruitment success
Strong swimming abilities
Only useful if larvae are able to detect suitable settlement
Save energy by locating currents using vertical migration
Return of larvae to natal reef
Some species may imprint to natal reef as embryos using reef odor
(mouth brooding may facilitate this)
Sensory mechanisms used in active dispersal (species may use a
combination of sensory mechanisms or just one)
Ebb tide plumes of lagoon water extending many km from reef
provide cues for swimming larva to orient themselves
Multiple sources provide chemical cues
Respond to changes in water chemistry
Differences in concentrations of amino acids, fatty acids,
alcohols, salinity and temperature (temperature can affect the
dispersal and activity of the chemical stimuli)
Chemical stimuli of biotic origin
Metabolites from reef organisms
Chemical stimuli of abiotic origin
Changes in salinity, temperature, concentrations of calcium
carbonate from reefs
**combinations of temperature and salinity define water
masses, are excellent cues, and found on vertical and horizontal
Apogonids, pomacentrids, blennies, and gobies able to sense
Amino acids detectable by olfaction-useful cues for
locating reef (concentrated source of amino acids from high
density of living organisms)
Sound travels in water regardless of current flow
Functional in a number of species shortly after hatching
Can hear frequencies within 50 and 5000 Hz
Breaking waves (can vary daily and seasonally)
Species specific sounds known in some sp. telling larva to
approach or avoid
Capable of localizing source
Well developed sense in reef fish
Functions at short distances
Reef Invertebrate Life Cycle and Larval Dispersal
Bipartite with dispersal larval phase
Partial navigation-vertical migration
Some invertebrate larvae able to orient themselves toward settlement site
Using sensory cues and swim toward the site
No evidence of hearing in invertebrate larvae
Nudibranch retract their velum and stop swimming when they sense coral
Use of chemical cues in sessile invertebrates (barnacles)
Cues bind to chemosensory receptors
Use visual cues of celestial bodes
Used when target is large
Used in partial navigation
Coral Life Cycle and Larval Dispersal
Reproduce asexually (budding) or sexually (releasing gametes)
Reproduce both internally (brooding) and externally (broadcasting) (majority of
Coordinate release of gametes to ensure fertilization (mass spawning)
Based on lunar cycles
Adult stage is sessile
Planula larval dispersal
Planula is planktonic, ciliated and free-swimming
Dispersed by advection (passive dispersal)
Potential for long distance dispersal, however often settle near origin due
to cyclonic currents
Atema, J., Kingsford, M.J., Gerlach, G. 2002. Larval reef fish could use odour for
detection, retention and orientation to reefs. Marine Ecology Progress Series
Arvedlund, M. 2005. Marathon fish larvae. X-ray Magazine: Science and Ecology 4: 64-
Browne, K.A., Zimmer, R.K. 2001. Controlled field release of waterborne chemical
signal stimulates planktonic larvae to settle. Biological Bulletin 200: 87-91.
Byatt, A., Fothergill, A., Holmes, M. (2001). The Blue Planet: Seas of Life. New York,
New York: DK Publishing Inc.
Fingerut, J.T., Zimmer, C.A., Zimmer, R.K. 2003. Larval swimming overpowers
turbulent mixing and facilitates transmission of a marine parasite. Ecology 84(9):
Hadfield, M.G., Koehl, M.A.R. 2001. Dissolved cues to invertebrate larval settlement:
do they work in moving water? American Zoologist 41(6): 1462-1462.
Jeffs, A. G., Montgomery, J.C., Tindle, C.T. 2005. How do spiny lobster post-larvae
find the coast? New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 39:
Kingsford, M.J., Leis, J.M., Shanks, A., Lindeman, K.C., Morgan, S.G., Pineda, J. 2002.
Sensory environments, larval abilities and local self-recruitment. Bulletin of
Marine Science 70(1): 309-340.
Larman, V.N., Gabbot P.A., East J. 1982. Physico-chemical properties of the settlement
factor proteins from the barnacle Balnus balanoides. Comparative Biochemistry
and Physiology 72B: 329-338.
Lecchini, D., Planes, S., Galzin, R. 2005. Experimental assessment of sensory modalities
of coral-reef fish larvae in the recognition of their settlement habitat. Behavioral
Ecology and Sociobiology 58: 18-26.
Leis, J.M., Carson-Ewart, B.M., Cato, D.H. 2002. Sound detection in situ by the larvae
of a coral-reef damselfish (Pomacentridae). Marine Ecology Progress Series 232:
Leis, J.M., Carson-Ewart, B.M., Hay, A.C., Cato, D.H. 2003. Coral-reef sounds enable
nocturnal navigation by some reef-fish larvae in some places and at some times.
Journal of Fish Biology 63: 724-737.
Levinton, J.S. (2001). Marine Biology: Function, Biodiversity, Ecology. New York, New
York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
Mercier, A., Battaglene, S.C., Hamel, J.F. 2000. Settlement preferences and early
migration of the tropical sea cucumber Holothuria scabra. Journal of
Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 249(1): 89-110.
Mustard, A. The ecology of coral reefs. Retrieved February 20, 2006, from Southampton
Oceanography Centre web site:
Nybakken, J.W. (2001). Marine Biology: An Ecological Approach. San Francisco,
California: Benjamin Cummings.
Robertson, D.R., Petersen, C.W., Brawn, J.D. 1990. Lunar reproductive cycles of
benthic-brooding reef fishes: Reflections of larval biology or adult biology?
Ecological Monographs 60(3): 311-329.
Sale, P.F. (1991). The Ecology of Fishes on Coral Reefs. San Diego, California:
Academic Press, Inc.
Shanks, A.L. 1995. Orientated swimming by megalopae of several eastern North Pacific
crab species and its potential role in their onshore migration. Journal of
Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 186: 1-16.
Simpson, S.D., Meekan, M., Montgomery, J., McCauley, R., Jeffs, A. 2005. Homeward
Sound. Science 308: 221.
Wright, K.J., Higgs, D.M., Belanger, A.J., Leis, J.M. 2005. Auditory and olfactory
abilities of pre-settlement larvae and post-settlement juveniles of a coral reef
damselfish (Pisces: Pomacentridae). Marine Biology International Journal on
Life in Oceans and Coastal Waters 147(6): 1425-1434
Yamamoto, H., Shimizu, K., Tachibana, A., Fusetani, N. 1999. Roles of dopamine and
serotonin in larval attachment of the barnacle, Balanus amphitrite. Journal of
Experimental Zoology 284: 746-758.
Return to Topic Menu
Here is a list of responses that have been posted to your discussion topic...
Important: Press the Browser Reload button to view the latest contribution.
If you would like to post a response to this topic, fill out this form completely...
DOWNLOAD the Paper Posting HTML Formating HELP SHEET!
We also have a GUIDE for depositing articles, images, data, etc in
your research folders.
Article complete. Click HERE
to return to the Pre-Course Presentation Outline and Paper Posting Menu. Or, you can return to the course syllabus
Tropical Marine Ecology of the Bahamas and Florida Keys
Tropical Ecosystems of Costa Rica
It is 10:17:20 AM on Friday, July 19, 2019. Last Update: Wednesday, May 7, 2014