The recruitment of slow and fast myotomal muscle fibres with respect to growth in body length in European pilchard larvae Sardina pilchardus[(3·5–13·5 mm standard length (LS)] was significantly higher in November 1998 than February 1999.
This resulted in a significant seasonal difference in the relationship between fibre number and LS, particularly for the fast muscle. Mean sea surface temperature was c. 6° C higher in November than February, whereas the mean abundance of potential prey items
(copepod nauplii) was comparable between cruises. Laboratory and field data obtained from other clupeid species have indicated the importance of early thermal experience on muscle fibre recruitment patterns. Differences in average sea temperature therefore provide a plausible mechanism for
the observed seasonal differences in muscle growth characteristics.