Stanford University

Neural control of larval behavior

The open ocean is teeming with an incredible array of planktonic life. Among the plankton, morphology and life history strategies are remarkably diverse. Some organisms live out their entire lives in the plankton while others only spend part of their life cycle in the water column before settling on the ocean floor. Many marine organisms undergo indirect development and live in the water column during larval stages before undergoing metamorphosis. During this larval period, the nervous system likely directs much of ecologically relevant behavior like finding food and choosing a settlement site. 

We are interested in describing and understanding larval nervous systems to better understand how they regulate larval behavior. Currently, this work focuses on the bat star Patiria miniata which has a 4 to 6 week larval stage in the plankton. To do this, we are using a variety of approaches including immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization, behavioral manipulations, and genetic manipulations.

 

Below: survey of sea star larva swimming tracks under different drug conditions