Avoiding low-oxygen environments: oxytaxis as a mechanism of habitat selection in a marine invertebrate

Authors: Marcelo E Lagos, Craig R White and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: Marine Ecology Progress Series, volume 540 (November 2015)


Oxygen-poor habitats are increasingly common in aquatic environments. Human activities are accelerating the spread of oxygen-poor environments, yet the way in which larvae avoid low-oxygen conditions remains poorly resolved.

For organisms with a sessile or sedentary adult phase, habitat selection is crucial, and many organisms show sophisticated responses to various habitat cues during colonization.

Whether oxygen availability serves as such a cue is unknown, yet increasingly, it seems that oxygen is an essential limiting resource in some systems.

In a series of experiments, we manipulated oxygen levels during dispersal and colonization in larvae of the model marine invertebrate Bugula neritina in the laboratory.

We found that, in the presence of lower oxygen levels, larvae reduce the time spent in habitat exploration and that they delay settlement. We also found that larvae avoid hypoxic water (positive oxytaxis) — the first such demonstration for marine larvae. All of these behaviors may decrease the likelihood of colonizing low-oxygen habitats in nature.

Our results suggest that marine invertebrate larvae, in this species at least, can use oxygen availability as an initial cue for habitat selection but that additional factors (e.g. biofilms) determine settlement patterns.


Lagos ME, White CR, Marshall DJ (2015) voiding low-oxygen environments: oxytaxis as a mechanism of habitat selection in a marine invertebrate, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 540 99–107 PDF (332 KB) doi:10.3354/meps11509