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Evolution. 2001 Dec;55(12):2439-54.

Foundations of gregariousness: a dispersal polymorphism among the planktonic larvae of a marine invertebrate.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Center for Marine Science Research, University of North Carolina at Wilmington 28403-3297, USA.


Theory predicts that selection should favor genotypes that can vary their tendency to disperse in habitats that are spatially or temporally variable or those that remain near their carrying capacity. Although many marine habitats appear to fit these criteria, confirmed examples of dispersal polymorphism among marine invertebrates are exceedingly rare. Competent larvae of the gregarious tubeworm, Hydroides dianthus, settle specifically in response to living conspecific worms, but a small proportion of each spawn settle nonspecifically on uninhabited substrata concurrently with their gregarious siblings. Here, using a parental half-sib analysis, we show that the proportion of a spawn settling in response to uninhabited biofilm is highly heritable. When estimated as a continuous trait based on a one-way ANOVA, heritability is estimated to be 0.83 +/- 0.31. When founder production was analyzed as a threshold trait, heritability was estimated to be 0.68 +/- 0.10 based on the breeding design experiment and 0.65 +/- 0.09 based on the artificial selection experiments. Realized heritability based on the selection experiments was considerably lower, however (0.17 per generation and 0.02 cumulative). Artificial selection was ineffectual at sequentially increasing the proportion of founder larvae among inbred family lines, but after three generations of selection, the proportion of larvae settling in response to biofilm was significantly higher among inbred lines than among the field-collected parents. The obligate planktonic larval stage common among so many marine invertebrates is thought to preclude the evolution of dispersal polymorphisms in these animals. Theoretical expectations of variable dispersal may instead be realized through individual behavioral differences resulting in differential transport or settlement preference, but this possibility remains largely unexplored among marine invertebrates.

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