A network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) was recently established along the California coast to conserve marine ecosystems and help restore species that are under pressure from human impacts. Since many of these species are sedentary as adults, the dispersal of larvae is key to connect populations among MPAs and from within MPAs to surrounding areas. Yet very little is known about larval dispersal due to the difficulty of tracking microscopic larvae at sea.
In this study, researchers will use robot larvae to determine dispersal distances and connectivity for many species. The robots are programmed to respond to simple environmental cues and simulate swimming behaviors of larvae and, by tracking their paths, researchers can build a model for larval dispersal and connectivity among MPAs.
The resulting knowledge will enable researchers to interpret resulting trajectories and dispersal distances and provide a sound conceptual model for dispersal and connectivity, which will aid the state of California in evaluating and adaptively managing its network of MPAs. The project will also provide education and outreach opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, high school students, and volunteers.