Biotic and Abiotic Structure in the Pelagic Environment: Importance to Small Fishes
Investigations on ichthyoplankton have traditionally focused on three broad areas of research; the larval fish themselves, their prey, and their predators. Little attention, however, has been given to the nature of the environment in which larvae are found; specifically, how differences in the structure of pelagic habitats influence the behaviour, distribution, and survivorship of ichthyoplankton. In addition to single structures (e.g., jellyfish) in the pelagic environment, aggregates (e.g., marine snow) and flotsam can provide shelter and a substratum on which ichthyoplankton may feed. The importance of biotic structures of a wide size range (e.g., marine snow, jellyfish, drift algae) and interactions between biotic and abiotic (oceanographic features) structures in the pelagic environment are discussed. Fish representing 73 families have been demonstrated to associate with structures as larvae or pelagic juveniles. There is, however, a good body of evidence for only 16 families. Existing research suggests that some fish associated with structures are preflexion forms, but most are postflexion or juvenile fish. I argue that association with structures is not the only criterion for importance. A consequence of the presence of structures (i.e., variation in the nature of pelagic habitats) may include the redistribution of food and a change in the behaviour of predators. Temporal variation in the occurrence of biotic structures may alter pelagic habitats, for example, abundances of some species of gelatinous zooplankton and drift algae may change according to season. The accumulation of biotic structures in oceanographic features, such as fronts, can confound assessments of oceanography. Research on relationships between small fish and biotic structures rarely includes open water controls in sampling designs. Historically, the influence that structures in the pelagic environment have on small fish has been treated as a curiosity. Changes in concentrations of biotic structures may alter the composition of larval fish assemblages. Researchers need to seriously consider how different pelagic habitats influence the distribution and survivorship of small fish.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 01 September 1993
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