Larval size and age affect colonization in a marine invertebrate

Authors: Dustin J Marshall and Peter D Steinberg

Published in: The Journal of Experimental Biology, volume 217, issue 22 (November 2014)


The relationship between offspring size and performance determines the optimal trade-off between producing many small offspring or fewer large offspring and the existence of this relationship has become a central tenet of life-history theory.

For organisms with multiple life-history stages, the relationship between offspring size and performance is the product of the effects of offspring size in each life-history stage.

Marine invertebrates have long been a model system for examining the evolutionary ecology of offspring size, and whilst offspring size effects have been found in several life-history stages, the crucial stage of colonization has received less attention.

We examined the effect of offspring size on the settlement response of sea-urchin larvae (Heliocidaris erythrogramma) to preferred and less preferred hostplants, how these effects changed over the larval period and estimated the success of juveniles in the field on preferred and less preferred host plants.

We found that smaller larvae became competent to respond to preferred host plant cues sooner than larger larvae but larger larvae rejected less preferred host plants for longer than smaller larvae. Overall, smaller H. erythrogramma larvae are likely to have less dispersal potential and are more likely to settle in less preferred habitats whereas larger larvae appear to have an obligately longer dispersal period but settle in preferred habitats.

Our results suggest that marine invertebrates that produce non-feeding larvae may have the potential to affect the dispersal of their offspring in previously unanticipated ways and that offspring size is subject to a complex web of selection across life-history stages.


Marshall DJ, Steinberg PD (2014) Larval size and age affect colonization in a marine invertebrate, Journal of Experimental Biology, 217: 3981–3987 PDF 403 KB doi:10.1242/jeb.111781