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Larval nutritional mode and swimming behaviour in ciliated marine larvae

  • E. M. Montgomery (a1), J.-F. Hamel (a2) and A. Mercier (a1)


Swimming propagules (embryos and larvae) are a critical component of the life histories of benthic marine animals. Larvae that feed (planktotrophic) have been assumed to swim faster, disperse farther and have more complex behavioural patterns than non-feeding (lecithotrophic) larvae. However, a number of recent studies challenge these early assumptions, suggesting a need to revisit them more formally. The current review presents a quantitative analysis of swimming speed and body size in planktotrophic and lecithotrophic propagules across five major marine phyla (Porifera, Cnidaria, Annelida, Mollusca and Echinodermata). Results of the comparative study showed that swimming speed differences among ciliated propagules can be driven by taxonomy, adult mobility (motile vs sessile) and/or larval nutritional mode. On a phylogenetic level, distinct patterns emerge across phyla and life stages, whereby planktotrophic propagules swim faster in some of them, and lecithotrophic propagules swim faster in others. Interestingly, adults with sessile and sedentary lifestyles produce propagules that swam faster than the propagules produced by motile adults. Understanding similarities and differences among marine propagules associated with different reproductive strategies and adult lifestyles are significant from ecological, evolutionary and applied perspectives. Patterns of swimming can directly impact the dispersal/recruitment potential with incidence on the design of larval rearing methods and marine protected areas.


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Author for correspondence: E. M. Montgomery, E-mail:


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