Marine Biology

, Volume 147, Issue 5, pp 1213–1220 | Cite as

Experimental analysis of the contribution of swimming and drifting to the displacement of reef fish larvae

  • J. Derek HoganEmail author
  • Camilo Mora
Research Article


The extent to which behaviour affects the dispersal of pelagic larvae in reef fishes has been a topic of major discussion among marine ecologists. Here, we experimentally quantified the extent to which the displacement of late-stage larvae of Abudefduf saxatilis is due to active movement (i.e. swimming) and drifting. We consider drifting as the component of larval displacement accounted for by the current. Drifting was quantified by comparing larval displacement to the displacement of passive particles in an extended flow chamber that gave larvae the free choice of swimming (i.e. swim with or against the current or not swim at all). We also determine whether drifting results from currents exceeding larval swimming capabilities or from the behavioural choice of larvae of not to swim against adverse currents. To do this, we compare the speeds of larval swimming in the extended flow chamber to those obtained in a smaller chamber in which larvae are behaviourally forced to swim due to space constraints and a retaining fence (most available data on larval swimming is based on this sort of chamber). Within the extended chamber, larvae tended to face the current and swim slower than it. This resulted in a net displacement increasingly determined by drifting. We also found that in the extended chamber, larvae swam at speeds between one and six times slower than the speeds they achieved in the “behaviourally modifying” smaller chamber. This suggests that the net displacement in the extended chamber was in part due to the behavioural choice of the larvae of not to swim. The importance of this “behavioural drifting” is discussed in terms of energy savings required for successful completion of the larval period and post-settlement survival. The idea that larvae may modulate their swimming behaviour raises caution for the use of published data regarding swimming capabilities of reef fish larvae when assessing the extent to which these fish actively affect their dispersal.


Reef Fish Swimming Speed Current Speed Swimming Ability Small Chamber 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank E. Garcia, C. Nolan and all the staff at the Institute for Marine Studies (University of Belize, Belize) for field support. M. Enns and S. Budinsky for construction of the small swimming chamber. P.F. Sale, J. P. Kritzer, P. M. Chittaro and S. Bartnik provided helpful comments on this manuscript. This project was funded by NSERC CRO grant# 227965 awarded to P. F. Sale and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship awarded to C. M. These experiments complied with the current laws of Belize.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada
  2. 2.Leigh Marine LaboratoryUniversity of Auckland New Zealand

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