Behavior constrains the dispersal of long-lived spiny lobster larvae

Mark J. Butler IV, Claire B. Paris, Jason S. Goldstein, Hirokazu Matsuda, Robert K. Cowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Behavior such as ontogenetic vertical migration (OVM) limits the transport of marine larvae with short pelagic larval durations (PLDs), but its effect on the supposed long-distance dispersal of larvae with long PLDs is unknown. We conducted laboratory tests of ontogenetic change in larval phototaxis and examined size-specific patterns of larval distribution in the plankton to characterize OVM in the Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus during its long (6 mo) PLD. We then used a coupled biophysical model to explore the consequences of OVM and hydrodynamics on larval P. argus dispersal in the Caribbean Sea. Larvae reared in the laboratory were positively phototatic for the first 2 mo and then avoided light thereafter, similar that seen in the planktonic distribution of same-sized larvae. Simulations of larval dispersal from 13 spawning sites in the Caribbean Sea predicted that twice as many larvae would recruit to nurseries if they displayed OVM compared with passive dispersers. Larvae with OVM typically settled <400 km from where they were spawned, while passive dispersers often settled >1000 km away. OVM also produced an asymmetrical bimodal pattern of dispersal dominated by larvae that settled near their origin (~60%), but showed a second peak of larvae that dispersed over long distances (~20%). Hydrodynamics created subregional differences in the potential for self-recruitment. Our findings suggest that (1) larval behavior constrains the dispersal of even long-lived larvae, particularly in tandem with retentive oceanographic environments, and (2) larval sources of P. argus in the Caribbean Sea cannot be estimated from passive transport and surface circulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-237
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
StatePublished - Jan 31 2011


  • Connectivity
  • Larval dispersal
  • Panulirus argus
  • Phototaxis
  • Spiny lobster
  • Vertical migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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