Springtime ichthyoplankton of the slope region off the north-eastern United States of America: larval assemblages, relation to hydrography and implications for larval transport
Larval transport in the slope region off north-eastern North America influences recruitment to juvenile habitats for a variety of fishes that inhabit the continental shelf. In this study, collections of larval fishes were made during springtime over the continental slope to provide insights into larval distributions and transport. Ichthyoplankton composition and distribution mirrored the physical complexity of the region. Three larval fish assemblages were defined, each with different water mass distributions. A Gulf Stream assemblage was found predominantly in the Gulf Stream and associated with filaments of discharged Gulf Stream water in the Slope Sea. Larvae of this assemblage originated from oceanic and shelf regions south of Cape Hatteras. Several members of this assemblage utilize habitats in the Middle Atlantic Bight (MAB) as juveniles (Pomatomus saltatrix, Peprilus triacanthus) and other members of the assemblage may share this life cycle (Mugil curema, Sphyraena borealis, Urophycis regia). A Slope Sea assemblage was found in all water masses, and was composed of epi- and mesopelagic fish larvae, as well as larvae of benthic shelf/slope residents. Larvae of one member of this assemblage (U. tenuis) are spawned in the Slope Sea but cross the shelf-slope front and use nearshore habitats for juvenile nurseries. A MAB shelf assemblage was found in MAB shelf water and was composed of larvae that were spawned on the shelf. Some of these species may cross into the Slope Sea before returning to MAB shelf habitats (e.g. Enchelyopus cimbrius, Glyptocephalus cynoglossus). Previous studies have examined the effect of warm-core rings on larval distributions, but this study identifies the importance of smaller-scale features of the MAB shelf/slope front and of filaments associated with Gulf Stream meanders. In combination with these advective processes, the dynamic nature of larval distributions in the Slope Sea appears to be influenced, to varying degrees, by both vertical and horizontal behaviour of larvae and pelagic juveniles themselves.