Hydrodynamic sensing and behavior by oyster larvae in turbulence and waves

Heidi L. Fuchs, Gregory P. Gerbi, Elias J. Hunter, Adam J. Christman, F. Javier Diez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Hydrodynamic signals from turbulence and waves may provide marine invertebrate larvae with behavioral cues that affect the pathways and energetic costs of larval delivery to adult habitats. Oysters (Crassostrea virginica) live in sheltered estuaries with strong turbulence and small waves, but their larvae can be transported into coastal waters with large waves. These contrasting environments have different ranges of hydrodynamic signals, because turbulence generally produces higher spatial velocity gradients, whereas waves can produce higher temporal velocity gradients. To understand how physical processes affect oyster larval behavior, transport and energetics, we exposed larvae to different combinations of turbulence and waves in flow tanks with (1) wavy turbulence, (2) a seiche and (3) rectilinear accelerations. We quantified behavioral responses of individual larvae to local instantaneous flows using twophase, infrared particle-image velocimetry. Both high dissipation rates and high wave-generated accelerations induced most larvae to swim faster upward. High dissipation rates also induced some rapid, active dives, whereas high accelerations induced only weak active dives. In both turbulence and waves, faster swimming and active diving were achieved through an increase in propulsive force and power output that would carry a high energetic cost. Swimming costs could be offset if larvae reaching surface waters had a higher probability of being transported shoreward by Stokes drift, whereas diving costs could be offset by enhanced settlement or predator avoidance. These complex behaviors suggest that larvae integrate multiple hydrodynamic signals to manage dispersal tradeoffs, spending more energy to raise the probability of successful transport to suitable locations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1419-1432
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


  • Acceleration
  • Crassostrea virginica
  • Dissipation rate
  • Energetics
  • Hydrodynamic signals
  • Larval behavior


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