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Field test of the behavioral regulation of larval transport

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The maintenance of marine populations depends on the completion of larval migrations between adult and larval habitats, but the ability of microscopic larvae to regulate their movements in such a dynamic environment has been debated. Using a comparative hypothesis testing approach and intensive hourly sampling throughout the water column, we determined the ability of larvae of 6 species with different swimming abilities (2 gastropods, 2 crabs, 2 fishes) to overcome strong tidal mixing during spring tides and regulate their vertical, and hence, horizontal position, in opposing depth-stratified currents in the upper Hudson River estuary, USA. The vertical distributions of nonmotile eggs and swimming larvae generally differed, suggesting that larvae regulated depth. Eggs were passively mixed by tidal currents, but larvae typically aggregated in stratified portions of the water column, which fostered retention in the upper estuary. However, the capacity to regulate depth depended on swimming ability and the degree of mixing. In a predominantly mixed tidal environment upstream, mixing overcame most larvae when current velocities were maximal during mid-ebb or mid-flood tides; tidal vertical migrations were not evident for any species, and diel vertical migrations were apparent for only 1 species. In a partially stratified water column downstream, diel vertical migrations were apparent for larvae of 3 of 4 invertebrate species, and tidal vertical migrations were apparent for the 2 fish species. The presence of all larval stages showed that all species regulated depth sufficiently well to remain in the upper estuary. Regardless of swimming ability, larvae were retained in the estuary by occurring near the level of no net motion, even without completing tidal vertical migrations. Continuous profiling of larvae and hydrodynamics is necessary to reveal the ability of larvae to regulate depth in tidal mixing and recruit to adult populations. © Inter-Research 2013.

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