Variability in the spawning habitat of Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax) off southern and central California
The spatial pattern of sardine spawning as revealed by the presence of sardine eggs is examined in relation to sea surface temperature (SST) and mean volume backscatter strength (MVBS) measured by a 150 kHz acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) during four spring surveys off central and southern California in 1996–99. Studies in other regions have shown that MVBS provides an excellent measure of zooplankton distribution and density. Zooplankton biomass as measured by survey net tows correlates well with concurrently measured MVBS. The high along-track resolution of egg counts provided by the Continuous Underway Fish Egg Sampler (CUFES) is a good match to the ADCP-based data. Large interannual differences in the pattern and density of sardine eggs are clearly related to the concurrently observed patterns of surface temperature and MVBS. The strong spatial relationship between sardine eggs and MVBS is particularly evident because of the large contrast in zooplankton biomass between the 1998 El Niño and 1999 La Niña. The inshore distribution of sardine spawning appears to be limited by the low temperatures of freshly upwelled waters, although the value of the limiting temperature varies between years. Often there is an abrupt offshore decrease in MVBS that is coincident with the offshore boundary of sardine eggs. Possible reasons for this association of sardine eggs and high zooplankton biomass include an evolved strategy that promotes improved opportunity of an adequate food supply for subsequent larval development, and/or adult nutrient requirements for serial spawning. Hence, the distribution of these parameters can be used as an aid for delineating the boundaries of sardine spawning habitat.