Sand Dollar Larvae Show Within-Population Variation in Their Settlement Induction by Turbulence

Jason Hodin, Matthew C Ferner, Gabriel Ng, Brian Gaylord
Biological Bulletin 2018, 235 (3): 152-166
Settlement-the generally irreversible transition from a planktonic phase to a benthic phase-is a critical stage in the life history of many shoreline organisms. It is reasonable to expect that larvae are under intense selection pressure to identify appropriate settlement habitat. Several decades of studies have focused mainly on local indicators that larvae use to identify suitable habitat, such as olfactory cues that indicate the presence of conspecifics or a favored food source. Our recent work has shown that the larvae of seashore-dwelling echinoids (sea urchins, sand dollars, and kin) can be primed to settle following a brief exposure to a broader-scale indicator of their approach to shore: an increase in fluid turbulence. Here we demonstrate that this priming shows within-population variation: the offspring of certain Pacific sand dollar (Dendraster excentricus) parents-both specific fathers and specific mothers, regardless of the other parent-are more responsive to turbulence than others. In particular, the observation of the effect correlating, in some cases, with specific fathers leads us to conclude that these behavioral differences are likely genetic and thus heritable. We also report that turbulence exposure causes larvae to temporarily sink to the bottom of a container of seawater and that larvae that respond in this way are also more likely to subsequently settle. We hypothesize a two-step scenario for the evolution of turbulence responsiveness at settlement and suggest that the evolutionary origin of these behaviors could be a driving force for population differentiation and speciation.

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