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Free Content Ecology and Fate of Butterflyfishes, Chaetodon spp., in the Temperate, Western North Atlantic

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Three of seven Chaetodon species in the western North Atlantic are reported from temperate waters, quite unlike most other chaetodontids which are only found at tropical and subtropical latitudes. This study describes the ecology of these species at temperate latitudes and tests the hypothesis that these individuals are expatriates that die from hypothermal conditions at the onset of winter. We collected fish with dip nets and bottom traps during 4 yrs, 1990–1993, in a New Jersey estuary. The most abundant species, C. ocellatus, arrived as pelagic juveniles (or tholichthys stage) as early as July and at sizes of 17–22 mm total length. It settled as small as 18 mm, grew about 0.1–0.2 mm d−1, and reached a maximum size of 77 mm (n = 388). All sizes appeared to be young-of-the-year fish, based on modal progression of lengths from July to November. Eighteen of 52 (35%) marked C. ocellatus were recaptured, generally within 10 m of their release point, indicating good short-term survival and high site fidelity. Individuals were collected during early November in four consecutive years, at temperatures as low as 12°C, but not in winter months. In the laboratory, C. ocellatus stopped feeding at about 12°C and did not survive temperatures of about 10°C or less. Chaetodon capistratus was present in 3 of 4 yrs, but the total number collected (n = 28) precluded detailed examination. Despite earlier reports of C. striatus in this region, we did not observe this species. Overall, Chaetodon species in our study area were much more abundant than previously reported, and they grew and survived well for several months in estuarine conditions. Nonetheless, the evidence did not suggest they were capable of emigrating during autumn nor surviving the ambient winter temperatures, so they become expatriates that will not survive through their first winter.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 September 1998

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  • The Bulletin of Marine Science is dedicated to the dissemination of high quality research from the world's oceans. All aspects of marine science are treated by the Bulletin of Marine Science, including papers in marine biology, biological oceanography, fisheries, marine affairs, applied marine physics, marine geology and geophysics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology and physical oceanography.
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