Ichthyological Research

, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 325–342 | Cite as

Ontogeny of behaviour in larvae of marine demersal fishes



The development of behaviours that are relevant to larval dispersal of marine, demersal fishes is poorly understood. This review focuses on recent work that attempts to quantify the development of swimming, orientation, vertical distribution and sensory abilities. These behaviours are developed enough to influence dispersal outcomes during most of the pelagic larval stage. Larvae swim in the ocean at speeds similar to the currents found in many locations and at 3–15 body lengths per second (BL s−1), although, based on laboratory measurements, species from cold environments swim slower than those from warm environments. At least in warm-water species, larvae swim in an inertial hydrodynamic environment for most of their pelagic period. Unfed swimming endurance is >10 km from about 8–10 mm, and reaches more than 50 km before settlement in several species. Larval fishes are efficient swimmers. In most species, a large majority of larvae have orientated swimming in the ocean, but the precision of orientation does not improve with growth. Swimming direction of the larvae frequently changes ontogenetically. Vertical distribution changes ontogenetically in most species, and both ontogenetic ascents and descents are found. Development of schooling is poorly understood, but it may influence speed, orientation and vertical distribution. Sensory abilities (hearing, olfaction, vision) form early, are well developed and are able to detect cues relevant to orientation for most of the pelagic larval stage. All this indicates that the passive portion of the pelagic larval duration will be short, at least in most warm-water species, and that behaviour must be taken into account when considering dispersal, and in particular in dispersal models. Although quantitative information on the ontogeny of some behaviours is available for a relatively small number of species, more research in this field is required, especially on species from colder waters.


Connectivity Dispersal Orientation Swimming Vertical distribution 


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© The Ichthyological Society of Japan 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IchthyologyAustralian MuseumSydneyAustralia

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