Size-Specific Predation on Marine Invertebrate Larvae

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Predation on planktonic larval stages is frequently a major source of mortality for the offspring of benthic marine invertebrates. Mortality rate likely varies with larval size and developmental stage, but few experiments have measured how these factors affect predation rates. I used experimental reductions in egg size to test how variation in larval size affects the likelihood of predation during planktonic development. Blastomeres of the sand dollar Dendraster excentricus were separated at the two-cell stage to produce half-sized zygotes. Larvae resulting from this manipulation were tested for their susceptibility to predation relative to whole-sized siblings at four ages. Individuals from each size class were simultaneously presented as prey items to five predators (crab zoeae, crab megalopae, chaetognaths, solitary tunicates, and postlarval fish) in the laboratory. Four predators consumed significantly more half-sized larvae than whole-sized larvae, but one predator type (postlarval fish) consumed more whole-sized larvae. Predators that consumed more half-sized larvae also preferentially consumed younger larvae. In contrast, postlarval fish showed no significant prey preference based on larval age. These results suggest that assumptions of constant mortality rates during development should be modified to account for the effects of larval size and age.