Revisiting the larval dispersal black box in the Anthropocene

Many marine organisms have a multi-phase life history and rely on their planktonic larvae for dispersal. Despite the important role of larvae in shaping population distribution and abundance, the chemical, physical, and biological factors that shape larval fate are still not fully understood. Shedding light into this larval dispersal “black box” has become critical in the face of global climate change, primarily due to the importance of larval dispersal in formulating sound conservation and management strategies. Focusing on two major stressors, warming and acidification, we highlight the limitations of the current species-by-species, lab-based study approach, and particularly the lack of consideration of the larval experience along the dispersive pathway. Measuring organismal responses to environmentally relevant climate change stress demands an improved documentation of the physical and biological conditions that larvae experience through ontogeny, which in turn requires updated empirical and theoretical approaches. While there are meaningful between taxa comparisons to be made by larval ecologists, to peek into the dispersal black box and to investigate the larger scale consequences of altered dispersal requires innovative collaborations between ecologists, oceanographers, molecular biologists, statisticians, and mathematicians.

Chan K. Y. K., Sewell M. A. & Byrne M., 2018. Revisiting the larval dispersal black box in the Anthropocene. ICES Journal of Marine Science: fsy097. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsy097. Article.

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