Light sensitivity in larval fishes: Implications for vertical zonation in the pelagic zone

Job, Suresh D., David R. Bellwood

Limnol. Oceanogr., 45(2), 2000, 362-371 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2000.45.2.0362

ABSTRACT: Larval fishes exhibit marked vertical zonation patterns that are important in planktonic predator-prey interactions. This zonation has been related to both proximate physical (e.g., light intensity) and ultimate biological factors (e.g., predator risk, prey availability). We hypothesize that changes in visual sensitivity and feeding performance in larval fishes provide a constraint on depth distributions and that this constraint may represent the major determinant of vertical distribution patterns. To test the generality of the relationship between larval age and visual sensitivity, larvae were obtained from captive breeding adults of seven species (three Apogonidae and four Pomacentridae). The lowest light intensity at which feeding behavior occurred was measured using infrared video techniques with natural prey items. The visual sensitivity of the larvae, measured as initiation of feeding, increased by about 3 orders-of-magnitude during the larval phase. The abilities of the larvae were broadly similar within families, but there were marked differences between families. Pomacentrids were about an order-of-magnitude less light-sensitive than apogonids. Larval apogonids are potentially capable of feeding at a depth of about 100 m in clear tropical waters at 4 mm standard length (SL) and to 200 m at 12 mm SL. The patterns of ontogenetic and phylogenetic differences in light sensitivity are consistent with field observations on the vertical distributions of larvae in these taxa.

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