Rapid declines in metabolism explain extended coral larval longevity
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- Graham, E.M., Baird, A.H., Connolly, S.R. et al. Coral Reefs (2013) 32: 539. doi:10.1007/s00338-012-0999-4
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Lecithotrophic, or non-feeding, marine invertebrate larvae generally have shorter pelagic larval durations (PLDs) than planktotrophic larvae. However, non-feeding larvae of scleractinian corals have PLDs far exceeding those of feeding larvae of other organisms and predictions of PLD based on energy reserves and metabolic rates, raising questions about how such longevity is achieved. Here, we measured temporal changes in metabolic rates and total lipid content of non-feeding larvae of four species of reef corals to determine whether changes in energy utilization through time contribute to extended larval durations. The temporal dynamics of both metabolic rates and lipid content were highly consistent among species. Prior to fertilization, metabolic rates were low (2.73–8.63 nmol O2 larva−1 h−1) before rapidly increasing to a peak during embryogenesis and early development 1–2 days after spawning. Metabolic rates remained high until shortly after larvae first became competent to metamorphose and then declined by up to two orders of magnitude to levels at or below rates seen in unfertilized eggs over the following week. Larvae remained in this state of low metabolic activity for up to 2 months. Consistent with temporal patterns in metabolic rates, depletion of lipids was extremely rapid during early development and then slowed dramatically from 1 week onward. Despite the very low metabolic rates in these species, larvae continued to swim and retained competence for at least 2 months. The capacity of non-feeding coral larvae to enter a state of low metabolism soon after becoming competent to metamorphose significantly extends dispersal potential, thereby accruing advantages typically associated with planktotrophy, notably enhanced population connectivity.