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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of Rhode Island
  • Jacqueline F Webb
  • (401) 874-2609
Award Date:02/20/2015
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 269,349
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 269,349
  • FY 2015=$269,349
Start Date:05/01/2015
End Date:04/30/2019
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.050
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Collaborative Research: The Role of Larval Orientation Behavior In Determining Population Connectivity
Federal Award ID Number:1459224
DUNS ID:144017188
Parent DUNS ID:075705780
Program Officer:
  • Michael Sieracki
  • (703) 292-7585

Awardee Location

Awardee Cong. District:02

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:University of Rhode Island
Street:120 Flagg Road
Cong. District:02

Abstract at Time of Award

Understanding how far young fish move away from their parents is a major goal of marine ecology because this dispersal can make connections between distinct populations and thus influence population size and dynamics. Understanding the drivers of population dynamics is, in turn, essential for effective fisheries management. Marine ecologists have used two different approaches to understand how fish populations are connected: genetic methods that measure connectivity and oceanographic models that predict connectivity. There is, however, a mismatch between the predictions of oceanographic models and the observations of genetic methods. It is thought that this mismatch is caused by the behavior of the young, or larval, fish. The objective of this research is to study the orientation capabilities of larval fish in the wild throughout development and under a variety of environmental conditions to see if the gap between observations and predictions of population connectivity can be resolved. The project will have broader impacts in three key areas: integration of research and teaching by training young scientists at multiple levels; broadening participation of undergraduates from underrepresented groups; and wide dissemination of results through development of a website with information and resources in English and Spanish. The overall objective of the research is to investigate the role of larval orientation behavior throughout ontogeny in determining population connectivity. This will be done using the neon goby, Elacatinus lori, as a model system in Belize. The choice of study system is motivated by the fact that direct genetic methods have already been used to describe the complete dispersal kernel for this species, and these observations indicate that dispersal is less extensive than predicted by a high-resolution biophysical model; E. lori can be reared in the lab from hatching to settlement providing a reliable source of larvae of all ages for proposed experiments; and a new, proven behavioral observation platform, the Drifting In Situ Chamber (DISC), allows measurements of larval orientation behavior in open water. The project has three specific objectives: to understand ontogenetic changes in larval orientation capabilities by correlating larval orientation behavior with developmental sensory anatomy; to analyze variation in the precision of larval orientation in different environmental contexts through ontogeny; and to test alternative hypotheses for the goal of larval orientation behavior, i.e., to determine where larvae are heading as they develop.

Publications Produced as a Result of this Research

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Hu Y, Majoris J, Buston P, Webb, JF. "Potential roles of olfaction and taste in the orientation behavior of coral reef fish larvae: Insights from morphology." Journal of Fish Biology - Special Issue on Sensory Ecology of Fishes., v., 2018, p.10.1111/j.

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

This project used a model species (a goby, Elacatinus lori) to tackle a fundamental question in biological oceanography ? how do the larvae (immature stages) of coral reef fishes (and by extension, thousands of other species of marine fishes with pelagic larvae) use their sensory systems (smell, taste, flow sensing, hearing, vision) to find the coral reefs on which they will live out their lives?  The outcomes of the work done in the Webb Lab will be integrated with behavioral data (collected during field studies by collaborators) to predict patterns of larval dispersal, which has implications for our understanding of fish ecology and conservation. We used a combination of morphological techniques (histology, scanning electron microscopy, micro-computed tomography [?CT], and vital fluorescent imaging) to describe the morphology and development of all of the major sensory systems throughout the larval period - the first data of its kind for any coral reef fish. For instance, our description of the development of the nose (smell) and taste buds (taste) resulted in the presentation of a novel hypothesis that the taste buds in the mouth, not necessarily the olfactory system, of pelagic larvae mediate chemosensory contributions to orientation behavior (published in Journal of Fish Biology). There is growing evidence that sounds arising from reefs (the soundscape) serve as cues for larvae seeking reef settlement sites. Our work on the development of the ear (hearing) showed that, if these larvae are using sound cues to find a reef, their structurally generalized ears (like those of other fishes) must be sufficient to accomplish the task (manuscript in preparation). Our analysis of the development of the mechanosensory lateral line system (flow sensing; manuscript in preparation) revealed how the complex distribution of hundreds of receptor organs on the skin develop, providing a valuable context for further study of this system and its functional role in gobies, and in other fishes. Despite a large number of published papers on some aspects of larval behavior and responses of larvae to either light, sound or chemical stimuli in lab and field studies, we have carried out the first integrated study of the developmental anatomy of all sensory systems and behavioral data obtained in the field (carried out by collaborators) for the first time (manuscript in preparation). We have made important contributions to our understanding of the sensory systems in developing fishes. It is predicted that our work will make a significant impact on our understanding of the ecology of larval marine fishes and the role of sensory biology in the behavior of early life history stages of fishes. This project had several types of broader impacts. One post-doc and one graduate student were trained and four undergraduates participated in our work. They learnred valuable laboratory and data visualization and analysis skills, thus integrating education and research in a meaningful way. All members of the lab participated in activities of the URI Chapter of the Society for Women in Marine Science (SWMS), a remarkable new organization, a Marine Science Open House for the public, and outreach activities at a public aquarium and an on campus event for middle school students. This work has already inspired additional collaborations that will address aspects of hearing in larval fishes, and the planning of scientific conference symposia that will further explore the sensory ecology of larval fishes. Seven papers were given at scientific conferences, and others that are an extension of this work are planned.  


Last Modified: 08/09/2019
Modified by: Jacqueline F Webb

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