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Volume 77, Issue 2 p. 255-268
Article

MECHANISMS RECONCILING GREGARIOUS LARVAL SETTLEMENT WITH ADULT CANNIBALISM

Mario N. Tamburri

Mario N. Tamburri

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, One Williams Street, Solomons, Maryland 20688 USA

E-mail: [email protected]

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Richard K. Zimmer

Richard K. Zimmer

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1606 USA

Neurosciences Program and Brain Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1606 USA

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Cheryl Ann Zimmer

Cheryl Ann Zimmer

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1606 USA

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First published: 01 May 2007
Citations: 46

Abstract

Marine benthic invertebrates living in dense, intraspecific aggregations are important community members because they provide structural habitat for other species. Here, we determined the mechanisms that facilitate gregarious larval settlement and promote group living. Using suspension-feeding oysters (Crassostrea gigas) residing in large assemblages (“reefs”), experiments were conducted under laboratory conditions that simulated critical aspects of natural estuarine habitats. Oyster larvae were attracted to the scent of their conspecific elders. In still-water trials, they moved downward and settled after contacting a waterborne, adult chemical cue. Yet, mortality of larvae placed in the adult pallial cavity was very high (mean of 91.3%). This seeming paradox of larval attraction to adult cannibals was resolved via laboratory flume (2 cm/s and 6 cm/s flows) experiments. Suspension-feeding activity did not significantly affect flow speeds or directions. Moreover, weak (mean of 1.65 mm/s) adult ciliary currents effectively entrained phytoplankton but rarely captured larvae. In fact, only a small percentage (≤4.6%) of settlers was cannibalized in flume trials, even when they passed within 1 mm of the inhalant opening, or “gape” (a narrow slit between two valves). Larvae cued by conspecifics potentially attach to any portion of the shell surface, but there is a low probability that they will land in or near the inhalant opening. On juvenile and adult oysters, for example, the mean ratio of gape to shell surface area was only 0.025. Furthermore, in surveys of juvenile/adult oysters at nine field sites (Hood Canal and eastern Olympic Peninsula, Washington, USA), the gape was ≤5.2% of the total plane surface area of the reef. Thus, an oyster larva settling onto a reef of suspension-feeding adults is unlikely to be cannibalized. Given this low mortality risk at settlement, future fitness payoffs (e.g., improved fertilization success) may drive the evolution of a gregarious settlement cue that promotes group living.