Rapid behavioral responses of an invertebrate larva to dissolved settlement cue
Michael G. Hadfield and M. A. R. Koehl
Larvae of the nudibranch Phestilla sibogae were used to study whether a natural dissolved settlement cue (from their prey, Porites compressa, an abundant coral on Hawaiian reefs) induces behavioral responses that can affect larval transport to suitable settlement sites. As cue and larvae are mixed in the turbulent flow over a reef, cue is distributed in fine-scale filaments that the larva experiences as rapid (seconds) on/off encounters. To examine larval responses in this setting, individual larvae were tethered in a small flume with flow simulating water velocity relative to a freely swimming larva, and their responses to realistic temporal patterns of cue encounter were videotaped. Competent larvae quickly ceased swimming in cue filaments and resumed swimming after exiting filaments. The threshold cue concentration eliciting a response was 3%–17% of concentrations within heads of P. compressa in nature. When moving freely in filtered seawater, competent larvae swam along straight paths in all directions at ~0.2 cm s–1, whereas in water conditioned by P. compressa, most ceased swimming and sank at ~0.1 cm s–1. The ability of larvae to rapidly respond (by sinking) to brief encounters with dissolved settlement cues can enhance their rapid transport to the substratum, even in wave-driven turbulent flow.