Sea life’s larval secrets revealed

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The larvae of fish, contrary to popular belief, are not simply swept along on dominant currents through the Hawaiian Islands.

Research under way in both the main and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is increasingly showing that you can’t make generalizations about where larvae go. It seems to depend on the species.

Scientists aboard the NOAA ship Hi’ialakai are continuing genetic research begun last year that could be of critical importance to managing fisheries and refuges. It is beginning to show that the larval stage of certain marine creatures readily move from island to island, while others stay where their parents lived.

“Until 10 years or so ago, the theory was that they drift at the mercy of the currents,” said Brian Bowen, a conservation geneticist and marine biologist with the Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology.

Today, it is becoming clear that two factors play a big role in larval movement. One is larval life. Some corals and clownfish larvae must settle on their new home sites in two weeks or they die.

Others can live much longer