We're all connected in some way... think of 6-degrees of separation. However, the actual distance between us varies. Some of us are more dispersive and nomadic - moving away from our hometown to explore the world; while some of us stay close to home, maybe even living on the same street as our family. The more movement that occurs, the more connected we are likely to become. The movement (or dispersal) of people has important implications for our country's security, population census, the spread of disease, and the spread of ideas. Similarly, the dispersal of other organisms has important implications for population maintenance, dynamics and survival.
For many marine invertebrates, the adult stage is spent on the bottom of the seafloor, with limited dispersal. It is their offspring during their larval stage that are released into the water column to go forth and 'discover' new areas. Larvae of different species have different dispersal abilities - based on how long they stay in the water column, the movement of the water, their position in the water column, and so forth. The small size of the larvae (from the thickness of a piece of paper to the size of a pencil tip) and the large size of the ocean makes them difficult to track. Scientists have come up with numerous cleaver ways to try to figure out where larvae go. We uses traditional larval collections in the field and larval culturing in the lab coupled with oceanographic observations and cutting edge molecular and genetic techniques to understand how and where larvae disperse.