Auditory sensitivity in settlement-stage larvae of coral reef fishes

Abstract

The larval phase of most species of coral reef fishes is spent away from the reef in the pelagic environment. At the time of settlement, these larvae need to locate a reef, and recent research indicates that sound emanating from reefs may act as a cue to guide them. Here, the auditory abilities of settlement-stage larvae of four species of coral reef fishes (families Pomacentridae, Lutjanidae and Serranidae) and similar-sized individuals of two pelagic species (Carangidae) were tested using an electrophysiological technique, auditory brainstem response (ABR). Five of the six species heard frequencies in the 100–2,000 Hz range, whilst one carangid species did not detect frequencies higher than 800 Hz. The audiograms of the six species were of similar shape, with best hearing at lower frequencies between 100 and 300 Hz. Strong within-species differences were found in hearing sensitivity both among the coral reef species and among the pelagic species. Larvae of the coral reef species had significantly more sensitive hearing than the larvae of the pelagic species. The results suggest that settlement-stage larval reef fishes may be able to detect reef sounds at distances of a few 100 m. If true hearing thresholds are lower than ABR estimates, as indicated in some comparisons of ABR and behavioural methods, the detection distances would be much larger.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by ARC Discovery Grant DP0345876, DST International Sciences Linkages Grant IAP-IST-CG03-00442 and I. Suthers. The authors thank R. Piola for laboratory assistance, K. Poling for technical advice and the staff at Lizard Island Research Station.

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Correspondence to K. J. Wright.

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Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Philip Munday

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Wright, K.J., Higgs, D.M., Cato, D.H. et al. Auditory sensitivity in settlement-stage larvae of coral reef fishes. Coral Reefs 29, 235–243 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-009-0572-y

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Keywords

  • Auditory brainstem response
  • Coral reef fish
  • Larvae
  • Settlement-stage