Marine Biology

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 193–213 | Cite as

Types of larval development in marine bottom invertebrates, their distribution and ecological significance: a re-evaluation

  • S. A. Mileikovsky


The distribution of various types of larval development among marine bottom invertebrates has been discussed on the basis of ecological evidence by Thorson (1936, 1946, 1950, 1952) and Mileikovsky (1961b, 1965). The information at hand is reviewed anew in this paper and is re-evaluated in the light of modern pertinent literature. The interrelationships between certain larval types and their distribution are not as rigid and direct as originally assumed. This can be proved even by the “copy book” example of the distribution of the various forms of development among species of the coastal gastropod genus Littorina. Especially among species with wide distributional areas, local populations may exhibit greater diversity in larval types than has previously been thought. Different types of larval development have now become known to exist in different populations of opisthobranch gastropods and lamellibranchs, i.e., in invertebrate groups in which such variability had been ruled out by Thorson. Variability in the type of larval development within given species — as a function of geographical, seasonal and other environmental parameters —is also more common in other marine bottom invertebrates than formerly considered. Marine bottom invertebrates are characterized not only by the 3 main different types of larval development proposed by Thorson (pelagic, direct, viviparous), but also by a fourth type: demersal (free non-pelagic) development. This fourth type occurs at all water depths and in all geographic zones of the oceans. The most important of the 4 types is pelagic (planktotrophic) development. Thorson's rule (decrease in numbers of species possessing pelagic development from the Equator towards the Poles, and from shallow-shelf waters to greater oceanic depths) is well substantiated by new data. However, one correction is necessary: pelagic development is not completely absent in the abyssal zone, as was proposed by Thorson (1950, and later), but is represented in it by at least several species belonging to various groups of invertebrates, and is also fairly common in the bathyal zone. A detailed analysis of the distributional pattern of the different types of development of marine bottom invertebrates must further take into consideration asexual reproduction with all its different modifications. Asexual reproduction in benthonic invertebrates is ecologically significant because of its common occurrence in nature; in numerous species it is also important as a biological supplement to sexual reproduction. The vast majority of species inhabiting the shallow-shelf zone and, partly, the higher levels of the slope zone of ocean areas located roughly between the polar circles, reveals development by means of planktotrophic larval stages. In the highest latitudes and on the slopes to abyssal depths—characterized by low water temperatures, scarcity of food, increasing hydrostatic pressure and other environmental peculiarities—other types of larval development prevail and, progressively, replace pelagic development with increasing latitude or depth. The distributional patterns of the various types of development among marine bottom invertebrates form one of the most important factors determining the basic distributional dynamics of the whole benthos in all oceans, both in the geological past and at the present time.


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© Springer-Verlag 1971

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. A. Mileikovsky
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Oceanology of the Academy of Sciences of USSRMoscowUSSR
  2. 2.Laboratory of PlankonInstitute of Oceanology of the Academy of Sciences of USSRMoscowUSSR

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