Marine Biology

, Volume 148, Issue 3, pp 655–669 | Cite as

In situ ontogeny of behaviour in pelagic larvae of three temperate, marine, demersal fishes

  • Jeffrey M. Leis
  • Amanda C. Hay
  • Thomas Trnski
Research Article


The ontogeny of behaviour relevant to dispersal was studied in situ with reared pelagic larvae of three warm temperate, marine, demersal fishes: Argyrosomus japonicus (Sciaenidae), Acanthopagrus australis and Pagrus auratus (both Sparidae). Larvae of 5–14 mm SL were released in the sea, and their swimming speed, depth and direction were observed by divers. Behaviour differed among species, and to some extent, among locations. Swimming speed increased linearly at 0.4–2.0 cm s−1 per mm size, depending on species. The sciaenid was slower than the sparids by 2–6 cm s−1 at any size, but uniquely, it swam faster in a sheltered bay than in the ocean. Mean speeds were 4–10 body lengths s−1. At settlement size, mean speed was 5–10 cm s−1, and the best performing individuals swam up to twice the mean speed. In situ swimming speed was linearly correlated (R2=0.72) with a laboratory measure of swimming speed (critical speed): the slope of the relationship was 0.32, but due to a non-zero intercept, overall, in situ speed was 25% of critical speed. Ontogenetic vertical migrations of several metres were found in all three species: the sciaenid and one sparid descended, whereas the other sparid ascended to the surface. Overall, 74–84% of individual larvae swam in a non-random way, and the frequency of directional individuals did not change ontogenetically. Indications of ontogenetic change in orientated swimming (i.e. the direction of non-random swimming) were found in all three species, with orientated swimming having developed in the sparids by about 8 mm. One sparid swam W (towards shore) when <10 mm, and changed direction towards NE (parallel to shore) when >10 mm. These results are consistent with limited in situ observations of settlement-stage wild larvae of the two sparids. In situ, larvae of these three species have swimming, depth determination and orientation behaviour sufficiently well developed to substantially influence dispersal trajectories for most of their pelagic period.


Standard Length Swimming Speed Ontogenetic Change Small Larva Large Larva 
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 are indebted to S. Fielder of the then New South Wales State Fisheries and G. Searle of Searle Aquaculture for providing the larvae used in this study. We are also grateful for the assistance provided by L. Cheviot, D. Clark, M. Lockett, J. Pogonoski and A. Wressnig in obtaining these data. We thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments, one of which led us to discover an error in the orientation data. This research was supported by the NSW Government via the then Australian Museum Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Research and by ARC Discovery Grant (DP0345876) to JML.


  1. Armsworth PR (2000) Modelling the swimming response of late stage larval reef fish to different stimuli. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 195:231–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armsworth PR, James MK, Bode L (2001) When to press on, wait or turn back: dispersal strategies for reef fish larvae. Am Nat 157:434–450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnett AM, Jahn AE, Sertic PD, Watson W (1984) Distribution of ichthyoplankton off San Onofre, California, & methods for sampling very shallow coastal waters. US Fish Bull 82:97–111Google Scholar
  4. Batschelet E (1981) Circular statistics in biology. Academic, LondonGoogle Scholar
  5. Blaxter JHS (1986) Development of sense organs and behavior of teleost larvae with special reference to feeding and predator avoidance. Trans Am Fish Soc 115:98–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brett JR (1964) The respiratory metabolism and swimming performance of young sockeye salmon. J Fish Res Board Can 21:1183–1226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burke JS, Tanaka M, Seikai T (1995) Influence of light and salinity on behaviour of larval Japanese flounder (Paralichthys olivaceus) and implications for inshore migration. Neth J Sea Res 34:59–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark DL, Leis JM, Hay AC, Trnski T (2005) Swimming ontogeny of larvae of four temperate marine fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 292: 287–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. De Vries MC, Forward RB, Hettler WF (1995) Behavioral response of larval Atlantic menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus (Latrobe) and spot Leiostomus xanthurus (Lacepede) to rates of salinity change. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 185:93–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Doherty PJ (1987) Light traps: selective but useful devices for quantifying the distributions and abundances of larval fishes. Bull Mar Sci 41:423–431Google Scholar
  11. Dufour V (1994) Colonization of fish larvae in lagoons of Rangiroa (Tuamotu Archipelago) and Moorea (Society Archipelago). Atoll Res Bull 416:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dufour V, Galzin R (1993) Colonization patterns of reef fish larvae to the lagoon at Moorea Island, French Polynesia. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 102:143–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fielder DS, Bardsley W (1999) A preliminary study on the effects of salinity on growth and survival of mulloway (Argyrosomus japonicus) larvae and juveniles. J World Aquac Soc 30:380–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fisher R (2005) Swimming speeds of larval coral reef fishes: impacts on self-recruitment and dispersal. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 285:223–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fisher R, Bellwood DR (2001) Effects of feeding on the sustained swimming abilities of late-stage larval Amphiprion melanopus. Coral Reefs 20:151–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fisher R, Bellwood DR (2002) The influence of swimming speed on sustained swimming performance of late-stage reef fish larvae. Mar Biol 140:801–807CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fisher R, Bellwood DR (2003) Undisturbed swimming behaviour and nocturnal activity of coral reef fish larvae. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 263:177–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fisher R, Wilson SK (2004) Maximum sustainable swimming speeds of late-stage larvae of nine species of reef fishes. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 312:171–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fisher R, Bellwood DR, Job SD (2000) Development of swimming abilities in reef fish larvae. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 202:163–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fisher R, Leis JM, Clark DL, Wilson SK (2005) Critical swimming speeds of late-stage coral reef fish larvae: variation within species, among species and between locations. Mar Biol (in press)Google Scholar
  21. Forward RB, Burke JS, Rittschof D, Welch JM (1996) Photoresponses of larval Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus Latrobe) in offshore and estuarine waters: implications for transport. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 199:123–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fuiman LA, Higgs DM (1997) Ontogeny, growth and the recruitment process. In: Chamber RC, Trippel E (eds) Early life history and recruitment in fish populations. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 225–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fuiman LA, Cowan JH (2003) Behavior and recruitment success in fish larvae: repeatability and covariation of survival skills. Ecology 84:53–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fuiman LA, Smith ME, Malley VN (1999) Ontogeny of routine swimming speed and startle responses in red drum, with a comparison of responses to acoustic and visual stimuli. J Fish Biol 55(Suppl A):215–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fuiman LA, Cowan JH, Smith ME, O’Neal JP (2005) Behavior and recruitment success in fish larvae: variation with growth rate and the batch effect. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 62:1337–1349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fukuhara O (1985) Functional morphology and behavior of early life stages of Red Sea Bream. Bull Jpn Soc Sci Fish 51:731–743CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fukuhara O (1987) Larval development and behavior in early life stages of black sea bream reared in the laboratory. Nippon Suisan Gakkai Shi 53:371–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hare JA, Quinlan JA, Werner FE, Blanton BO, Govoni JJ, Forward RB, Settle LR, Hoss DE (1999) Larval transport during winter in the SABRE study area: results of a coupled vertical larval behaviour—three-dimensional circulation model. Fish Oceanogr 8(Suppl 2):57–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hindell JS, Jenkins GP, Moran SM, Keough MJ (2003) Swimming ability and behaviour of post-larvae of a temperate marine fish re-entrained in the pelagic environment. Oecologia 135:158–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kingsford MJ (1990) Linear oceanographic features: a focus for research on recruitment processes. Aust J Ecol 15:391–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kingsford MJ, Atkinson MH (1994) Increments in otoliths and scales: how they relate to the age and early development of reared and wild larval and juvenile Pagrus auratus (Sparidae). Aust J Mar Freshw Res 45:1007–1021CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Leis JM (2004) Vertical distribution behaviour and its spatial variation in late-stage larvae of coral-reef fishes during the day. Mar Freshw Behav Physiol 37(2):65–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Leis JM (in press) Are larvae of demersal fishes plankton or nekton? The data contradict the simplifying assumption. Adv Mar Biol (in press)Google Scholar
  34. Leis JM, Carson-Ewart BM (1997) Swimming speeds of the late larvae of some coral reef fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 159:165–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Leis JM, Carson-Ewart BM (1998) Complex behaviour by coral-reef fish larvae in open-water and near-reef pelagic environments. Environ Biol Fish 53:259–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Leis JM, Carson-Ewart BM (1999) In situ swimming and settlement behaviour of larvae of an Indo-Pacific coral-reef fish, the Coral Trout (Pisces, Serranidae, Plectropomus leopardus). Mar Biol 134:51–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Leis JM, Carson-Ewart BM (2001) Behavioural differences in pelagic larvae of four species of coral-reef fishes between two environments: ocean and atoll lagoon. Coral Reefs 19:247–257Google Scholar
  38. Leis JM, Carson-Ewart BM (2002) In situ settlement behaviour of damselfish larvae (Pisces: Pomacentridae). J Fish Biol 61:325–346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Leis JM, Carson-Ewart BM (2003) Orientation of pelagic larvae of coral-reef fishes in the ocean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 252:239–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Leis JM, Carson-Ewart BM (2004) The larvae of Indo-Pacific coastal fishes: a guide to identification. Brill, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  41. Leis JM, Clark DL (2005) Feeding greatly enhances endurance swimming of settlement-stage reef-fish larvae (Pomacentridae). Ichthyol Res 52:185–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Leis JM, Fisher R (in press) Swimming speed of settlement-stage reef-fish larvae measured in the laboratory and in the field: a comparison of critical speed and in situ speed. Proceedings of the Tenth International Coral Reef Symposium, Okinawa (in press)Google Scholar
  43. Leis JM, McCormick MI (2002) The biology, behaviour and ecology of the pelagic, larval stage of coral-reef fishes. In: Sale PF (ed) Coral reef fishes: new insights into their ecology. Academic, San Diego, CA, pp 171–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Leis JM, Stobutzki IC (1999) Swimming performance of late pelagic larvae of coral-reef fishes: in situ and laboratory-based measurements. In: Seret B, Sire J-Y (eds) Proceedings of the Fifth Indo-Pacific Fish Conference, Noumea, 1997. Societe Francaise d’Ichtyologie & Institut de Recherche pour le Developpment, Paris, pp 575–583Google Scholar
  45. Leis JM, Sweatman HPA, Reader SE (1996) What the pelagic stages of coral reef fishes are doing out in blue water: daytime field observations of larval behaviour. Mar Freshw Res 47:401–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Leis JM, Hay AC, Clark DA, Chen I-S, Shao K-T (in press) Behavioral ontogeny in larvae and early juveniles of the Giant Trevally, Caranx ignobilis (Pisces: Carangidae). US Fish Bull (in press)Google Scholar
  47. Masuda R, Tsukamoto K (1996) Morphological development in relation to phototaxis and rheotaxis in the striped jack, Pseudocaranx dentex. Mar Freshw Behav Physiol 28:75–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Masuda R, Tsukamoto K (1998) The ontogeny of schooling behaviour in the striped jack. J Fish Biol 52:483–493CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Neira FJ, Miskiewicz AG, Trnski T (1998) Larvae of temperate Australian fishes, laboratory guide for larval fish identification. University of Western Australian Press, NedlandsGoogle Scholar
  50. Ninos M (1984) Settlement and metamorphosis in Hypsoblennius (Pisces, Blenniidae). Unpublished PhD Thesis, University Southern California, Los Angeles, CAGoogle Scholar
  51. Pepin P, Helbig JA (1997) Distribution and drift of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) eggs and larvae on the northeast Newfoundland Shelf. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 54:670–685CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Porch CE (1998) A numerical study of larval fish retention along the southeast Florida coast. Ecol Model 109:35–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Shanks AL (1995) Orientated swimming by megalopae of several eastern North Pacific crab species and its potential role in their onshore migration. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 186:1–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Smith KA (2003) Larval distributions of some commercially valuable fish species over the Sydney continental shelf. Proc Linn Soc NSW 124:1–11Google Scholar
  55. Smith ME, Fuiman LA (2004) Behavioral performance of wild-caught and laboratory-reared red drum Sciaenops ocellatus (Linnaeus) larvae. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 302:17–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sponaugle S, Cowen RK, Shanks A, Morgan SG, Leis JM, Pineda J, Boehlert GW, Kingsford MJ, Lindeman K, Grimes C, Munro JL (2002) Predicting self-recruitment in marine populations: biophysical correlates. Bull Mar Sci 70:341–376Google Scholar
  57. Stobutzki IC, Bellwood DR (1998) Nocturnal orientation to reefs by late pelagic stage coral reef fishes. Coral Reefs 17:103–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Theilacker G, Dorsey K (1980) Larval fish diversity, a summary of laboratory and field research. UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Workshop Report 28105–142Google Scholar
  59. Trnski T (2002) Behaviour of settlement-stage larvae of fishes with an estuarine juvenile phase: in situ observations in a warm-temperate estuary. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 242:205–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Vigliola L, Meekan MG (2002) Size at hatching and planktonic growth determine post-settlement survivorship of a coral reef fish. Oecologia 131:89–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. von Westernhagen H, Rosenthal H (1979) Laboratory and in-situ studies on larval development and swimming performance of Pacific herring Clupea harengus pallasi. Helgoländer Wissenschaftliche Meeresuntersuchungen 32:539–549CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Werner FE, Page FH, Lynch DR, Loder JW, Lough RG, Perry RI, Greenberg DA, Sinclair MM (1993) Influences of mean advection and simple behavior on the distribution of cod and haddock early life stages on Georges Bank. Fish Oceanogr 2:43–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wolanski E, Doherty PJ, Carelton J (1997) Directional swimming of fish larvae determines connectivity of fish populations on the Great Barrier Reef. Naturwissenschaften 84:262–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Zar JH (1996) Biostatistical analysis, 3rd edn. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey M. Leis
    • 1
  • Amanda C. Hay
    • 1
  • Thomas Trnski
    • 1
  1. 1.IchthyologyAustralian MuseumSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations