Stanley, R.; Snelgrove, P.V.R.; deYoung, B.; Gregory, R.S. (2012). Dispersal Patterns, Active Behaviour, and Flow Environment during Early Life History of Coastal Cold Water Fishes. 7 (9)
During the pelagic larval phase, fish dispersal may be influenced passively by surface currents or actively determined by swimming behaviour. In situ observations of larval swimming are few given the constraints of field sampling. Active behaviour is therefore often inferred from spatial patterns in the field, laboratory studies, or hydrodynamic theory, but rarely are these approaches considered in concert. Ichthyoplankton survey data collected during 2004 and 2006 from coastal Newfoundland show that changes in spatial heterogeneity for multiple species do not conform to predictions based on passive transport. We evaluated the interaction of individual larvae with their environment by calculating Reynolds number as a function of ontogeny. Typically, larvae hatch into a viscous environment in which swimming is inefficient, and later grow into more efficient intermediate and inertial swimming environments. Swimming is therefore closely related to length, not only because of swimming capacity but also in how larvae experience viscosity. Six of eight species sampled demonstrated consistent changes in spatial patchiness and concomitant increases in spatial heterogeneity as they transitioned into more favourable hydrodynamic swimming environments, suggesting an active behavioural element to dispersal. We propose the tandem assessment of spatial heterogeneity and hydrodynamic environment as a potential approach to understand and predict the onset of ecologically significant swimming behaviour of larval fishes in the field.