The dispersal of marine larvae determines the level of connectivity among populations, influences population dynamics, and affects evolutionary processes. Patterns of dispersal are influenced by both ocean currents and larval behavior, yet the role of behavior remains poorly understood. Here we report the first integrated study of the ontogeny of multiple sensory systems and orientation behavior throughout the larval phase of a coral reef fish-the neon goby, Elacatinus lori. We document the developmental morphology of all major sensory organs (lateral line, visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory) together with the development of larval swimming and orientation behaviors observed in a circular arena set adrift at sea. We show that all sensory organs are present at hatch and increase in size (or number) and complexity throughout the larval phase. Further, we demonstrate that most larvae can orient as early as 2 days post-hatch, and they swim faster and straighter as they develop. We conclude that sensory organs and swimming abilities are sufficiently developed to allow E. lori larvae to orient soon after hatch, suggesting that early orientation behavior may be common among coral reef fishes. Finally, we provide a framework for testing alternative hypotheses for the orientation strategies used by fish larvae, laying a foundation for a deeper understanding of the role of behavior in shaping dispersal patterns in the sea.
Bibliographical noteKAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2021-06-15
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank the Belizean government and Fisheries Department for permission to conduct this research. All work was approved by and carried out in accordance with the guidelines and regulations of the Boston University IACUC (protocol #’s: 13-021 and 10-036). Thank you to Katrina Catalano, Robin Francis, and the staff at the International Zoological Expeditions for their support in the field. Special thanks to our boat captains Earl David Jr. and Kevin David for supporting our research diving and DISC deployment operations. Thank you to Thomas DeCarlo for assistance mapping deployment waypoints. Funding was provided by NSF grants to PMB and CBP (OCE-1260424, 1459156, 1459546) and JFW (OCE-1459224), and an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (IOS-1501651) awarded to JEM.
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