The vast majority of marine invertebrates have complex life histories that incorporate a pelagic life history stage – the larval form. Larvae both feed in the plankton (with the exception of lecithotrophs) and disperse. In fact for many sessile benthic species this is the major form of species dispersal. Larval forms are sufficiently small that they live in a viscous environment described by low Reynolds numbers. Their biology and dispersal or retention in estuarine and coastal systems is dependent on their behavior and physiology. I have a career long interest in the culture and experimental examination of bivalve larvae as tools to understand their ecology in estuarine and coastal shelf systems and site selection and success in metamorphosis to the benthic form.
Current studies in larval ecology and dispersal in estuarine and coastal systems have used both field dye studies and complex circulation models with larval behavior elements incorporated within them. Dye models were used to develop computer simulations that describe oyster larval dispersal from point sources in shallow subestuaries of the Chesapeake Bay. Two short movies are graphic descriptions developed by Jian Shen at VIMS based on field dye release studies in the Coan River: Milford and Yeocomico.