Larval responses to turbulence and temperature in a tidal inlet: Habitat selection by dispersing gastropods? Academic Article uri icon


  • Marine larval dispersal is affected by hydrodynamic transport and larval behavior, but little is known about how behavior affects large-scale patterns of dispersal and recruitment. Intertidal habitats are characterized by strong and variable turbulence relative to shelf and pelagic waters, so larval responses to turbulence may affect both dispersal and habitat selection. This study combined observations and theoretical approaches to model gastropod larval responses to multiple physical variables in a well-mixed tidal inlet. Physical measurements and larvae were collected in July 2004 in Barnstable Harbor, Massachusetts (USA). Physical measurements were incorporated in an advection-diffusion model where larval vertical velocity is a function of turbulence dissipation rate, temperature, and the temperature gradient. Modeled larval distributions were fitted to observed concentration profiles by maximum likelihood to estimate larval behavioral velocity (swimming or sinking) as a function of environmental conditions. These quantitative behavior estimates were used to test hypotheses about behavioral differences among groups and to assess the relative impact of different cues on overall larval behavior. Larvae of five common gastropod species from different coastal habitats reacted most strongly to turbulence but had genus-specific responses to environmental cues. Larvae of a species from tidal inlets (the mud snail Nassarius obsoletus) had near-zero velocities under calmer conditions and sank in strong turbulence. In contrast, larvae from exposed beach habitats (Crepidula spp. and Anachis spp.) sank in weak turbulence and swam up in strong turbulence, with additional responses to temperature and temperature gradient. Larval responses also differed between small and large size classes and between flood and ebb tides. Behavior of mud snail larvae would contribute to retention inside the inlet and near adult habitats, whereas behavior of beach snail larvae would contribute to rapid export from muddy inlets lacking suitable adult habitats.

publication date

  • January 1, 2010