Ontogenetic changes in larval swimming and orientation of pre-competent sea urchin Arbacia punctulata in turbulence
Wheeler, Jeanette D.
Chan, Kit Yu Karen
Anderson, Erik J.
Mullineaux, Lauren S.
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Many marine organisms have complex life histories, having sessile adults and relying on the planktonic larvae for dispersal. Larvae swim and disperse in a complex fluid environment and the effect of ambient flow on larval behavior could in turn impact their survival and transport. However, to date, most studies on larvae–flow interactions have focused on competent larvae near settlement. We examined the importance of flow on early larval stages by studying how local flow and ontogeny influence swimming behavior in pre-competent larval sea urchins, Arbacia punctulata. We exposed larval urchins to grid-stirred turbulence and recorded their behavior at two stages (4- and 6-armed plutei) in three turbulence regimes. Using particle image velocimetry to quantify and subtract local flow, we tested the hypothesis that larvae respond to turbulence by increasing swimming speed, and that the increase varies with ontogeny. Swimming speed increased with turbulence for both 4- and 6-armed larvae, but their responses differed in terms of vertical swimming velocity. 4-Armed larvae swam most strongly upward in the unforced flow regime, while 6-armed larvae swam most strongly upward in weakly forced flow. Increased turbulence intensity also decreased the relative time that larvae spent in their typical upright orientation. 6-Armed larvae were tilted more frequently in turbulence compared with 4-armed larvae. This observation suggests that as larvae increase in size and add pairs of arms, they are more likely to be passively re-oriented by moving water, rather than being stabilized (by mechanisms associated with increased mass), potentially leading to differential transport. The positive relationship between swimming speed and larval orientation angle suggests that there was also an active response to tilting in turbulence. Our results highlight the importance of turbulence to planktonic larvae, not just during settlement but also in earlier stages through morphology–flow interactions.
© The Author(s), 2016. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Journal of Experimental Biology 219 (2016): 1303-1310, doi:10.1242/jeb.129502.
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