Evaluation of morphological characters to identify grouper (Serranidae: Epinephelini) larvae in the Gulf of Mexico using genetically identified specimens
The identities of early life stages of groupers worldwide are virtually unknown. Current identification strategies rely on characters not yet developed in small larvae (< 7 mm BL) and not always reliable in larger larvae. Genetically identified larval Epinephelini (280 specimens from 15 species) collected in the Straits of Florida, coupled with larvae collected during Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment program (SEAMAP) resource surveys in the gulf of Mexico (500 specimens), were used to examine the utility of morphological characters in identifying epinephelin larvae to species. Through investigation of genetically identified larvae, we demonstrate that patterns of tail pigment and lower-jaw pigment are consistent within species and are often species-specific. These characters facilitate identification of grouper larvae when genetic analyses are not used. The coupling of molecular and morphological identification techniques proved to be a powerful and cost-effective tool in advancing our knowledge of larval groupers. Application of these combined techniques resulted in the first-time identification of the larvae of three species and the preflexion-stage larvae of 10 species of groupers. Six species, three species groups, and three morphological types could be identified in the SEAMAP samples. The synthesis of our findings with previously published descriptions of grouper larvae represents the most comprehensive treatment of larval groupers of the western North Atlantic to date.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2010-07-01
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