Bridging the Eco-Devo divide: molecular ecology of marine larvae
Sandie Degnan (University of Queensland) and Maria Byrne (University of Sydney)

It is implicitly understood that the ecology and development of biological organisms interact in diverse and sophisticated ways to generate locally adapted adult phenotypes.  In spite of this, the fields of ecology and developmental biology have proceeded largely in isolation from each other.  Marine invertebrate larvae, with their finely tuned sensory systems, developmental sensitivities, capacities to disperse through heterogeneous environments and requirements for appropriate exogenous cues to settle and metamorphose, stand as excellent systems to untangle the interplay between genome and ecology during early life history stages.  For a huge number of marine species, the planktonic larval stage is the most critical component of the life history, because its dispersal and ultimate colonisation determines stability, connectivity, range shifting and evolution of marine communities.  Indeed, the direct impact of the environment on the development of individual phenotypes – phenotypic plasticity – is now becoming fully appreciated as a potential mechanism for rapid evolution in response to directional environmental change.

This symposium seeks to draw together growing interest in Australia in the environmental signals that act upon larval behaviour and biology, and that have a cellular and genomic basis.  It is our hope that this symposium will act as a venue to strengthen the interaction between the molecular and ecological sciences through the presentation and study of marine invertebrate systems being formulated locally.  The benefits to Australian marine science from enhanced cross-disciplinary interactions will include a better understanding of the evolutionary potential of marine communities to cope with natural and accelerated environmental change.

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