Dispersal is a critical life-history trait linking ecological and evolutionary processes. Transport of planktonic larvae affects colonization success and population persistence for benthic animals, and influences genetic subdivision of populations, local adaptation, and speciation. However, recent studies question the long-held assumption that pelagic larval duration (PLD) determines how far larvae are advected. This has applied significance, as oceanographic models used to predict exchange among marine protected areas often use PLD as the key larval parameter. The investigators' data for Caribbean gastropods show genetic breaks that are not congruent with model predictions, and levels of structure that are inconsistent with larval lifespan, highlighting a need for new theory.
Intellectual merits: This research will integrate molecular and larval ecology to test the link between dispersal and larval duration in a phylogenetic framework, and determine whether Individual Based Models (IBMs) accurately predict exchange for Caribbean reef ecosystems. The PI will collect multi-locus genetic data and quantify larval behavior for 14 related, ecologically similar species of sea slugs with PLDs from 0-30 days. The PI predicts that larval behavior explains why some species are under- or over-dispersed relative to their PLD; this work will reveal key parameters needed for biophysical-coupling models to predict connectivity for coastal invertebrates. The proposal will address 3 inter-related objectives: (1) Are genetic connectivity estimates from mtDNA and nuclear markers congruent, and consistent with model predictions? Data for mitochondrial and nuclear loci will be used to test for selection on mtDNA, estimate rates of gene flow and times of divergence, and assess levels of connectivity within each species. Matrices of model-predicted exchange will be compared with genetic similarity matrices to test whether breaks in gene flow occur where predicted. (2) Are genetic connectivity and PLD correlated? More broadly, the PI will test the assumption that larval period determines dispersal, using comparative methods in a phylogenetic framework to correct for effects of relatedness among species. The PI will compare models of trait evolution with Bayesian Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods to determine if gene flow is correlated or uncorrelated with PLD, using a molecular phylogeny and multi-locus genetic data. (3) Does larval behavior explain genetic structure in species with long PLD? At least two of the focal species selected for this study are under-dispersed, with genetically isolated demes despite a 30-day PLD. Conversely, at least one short-PLD species has no genetic structure over large regions of the Caribbean. The PI will build on past work quantifying larval behavior to ask if species-specific differences in larval swimming facilitate local retention, making species deviate from expected connectivity patterns. The PI will also test whether pre-competent larvae respond to habitat cues in a way that influences dispersal, as occurs in fish. This work will reconcile life-history theory, oceanographic models, and genetics by mechanistically explaining breaks in connectivity; the results will deepen our understanding of how larval behavior can determine the pace of divergence among populations.
Broader impacts: Student training is a major thrust of this proposal, based at a Hispanic-serving institution. Funding will support undergraduate and M.S. students from under-represented ethnic groups (5 of 9 current research students are Latino or black). Krug will publish with graduate and undergraduate student co-authors, and work to place students in Ph.D. programs; in the last funding period, 7 papers had student co-authors and two minority students were accepted into Ph.D. programs. Through established partnerships, the PI will host one area high school teacher and 3 students in the first year of funding for research experiences. Continued outreach through COSEE-west will allow the PI-led group to increase content knowledge for K-12 science teachers using examples from marine ecology and evolution. Public outreach will include bimonthly segments on the local NPR affiliate radio station (KPCC), and lectures at the K-12 and community college level through programs aimed to broaden diversity in the science and technology workforce.