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Impact of variable pelagic environments on natural larval growth and recruitment of the reef fish Thalassoma bifasciatum

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New recruits of the bluehead wrasse Thalassoma bifasciatum were censused and collected from nearshore reefs of Barbados, West Indies, every 2 weeks for 20 months. Their temporal coincidence with low salinity (<34ยท5) water during their pelagic larval stage was determined by comparing the otolith records of new recruits with conductivity and temperature records from a current meter moored 2 km off the west coast of the island. Larval residence in a low salinity North Brazil Current (NBC) ring appeared to have a negative impact on growth. Larvae that encountered a NBC ring for at least 7 days during either the first half of the larval period exhibited slower larval growth than those that did not encounter a ring for 7 days during any part of their larval period. As a result of this slower growth, larvae that encountered low salinity waters had a longer pelagic larval duration and were larger at the time of settlement. The magnitude of settlement was not distinctly related to the presence or absence of a NBC ring, but the largest settlement event occurred at the end of the longest ring event. Early juvenile growth did not vary between fish that had encountered a ring and those that did not, so size differences at settlement were propagated through the first week of life on the reef. The potentially opposing attributes of fast and slow‐growing larvae (e.g. fast growing larvae with shorter larval stage duration but smaller size at settlement and higher susceptibility to reef predation), and the resulting differential mortality on the reef may promote the persistence of individuals in the population with contrasting life history traits, and contribute to the lack of a relationship between larval growth and recruitment success. Positive transport related effects of rings (i.e. enhanced retention during some ring events) may further complicate matters by outweighing the negative impact of rings on larval growth.

Keywords: bluehead wrasse; condition; early life history traits; otolith growth; pelagic larval duration; salinity

Document Type: Regular Paper


Affiliations: Marine Biology and Fisheries Division, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33 149-1098 U.S.A.

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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