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Using patch studies to link mesoscale patterns of feeding and growth in larval fish to environmental variability

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We present results from a series of three patch studies designed to examine links between environmental variability and mesoscale patterns of feeding and growth of larval radiated shanny (Ulvaria subbifurcata). We examine the effects of variability in temperature, turbulence and prey concentration on both the mean (i.e. population level) and the variance (i.e. individual level) of larval feeding and growth rates among the three bays. Although both gut fullness and growth rates differ significantly between bays, our results show only weak environmental influences. When larvae are pooled across bays (i.e. treated as independent observations), environmental factors generally explain <4% of the variability in gut fullness. When treated as daily mean residuals, however, temperature accounts for 41% of the variability in mean gut fullness, while both temperature and prey concentration also explain significant portions of the variance in gut fullness (38 and 43%, respectively). Between-bay differences in larval growth rates are consistent with patterns of temperature variation but not with patterns of prey availability. Studies relying on tracking a single patch of larvae typically suffer from having too few observations to detect significant relationships between feeding or growth and environmental variables. By following three patches we collected a larger number of observations. However, as we encountered only a limited range of environmental conditions it remains difficult to adequately assess the role of environmental factors. In part, this problem stems from the inability of fisheries oceanographers to track the recent environmental history of individual larvae on the same fine scales currently employed to collect biological data (e.g. guts and otoliths) on individuals.

Keywords: feeding; growth; larval fish; otolith; temperature; turbulence

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology and School of Earth & Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, PO Box 3020 Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3N5, Canada, 2: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, PO Box 5667, St John's, Newfoundland A1C 5X1, Canada, 3: Department of Biology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada

Publication date: 2002-07-01

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