MEPS 256:193-204 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps256193

What determines the growth of tropical reef fish larvae in the plankton: food or temperature?

M. G. Meekan1,*, J. H. Carleton2, A. D. McKinnon2, K. Flynn3, M. Furnas2

1Australian Institute of Marine Science, Building 42, Northern Territory University, Darwin, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
2Australian Institute of Marine Science, P.M.B. 3, Townsville MC, Queensland 4810, Australia
3Long Island University, Southampton College, 239 Montauk Highway, Southampton, New York 11968-4198, USA

ABSTRACT: The late-stage larvae of the reef fish Pomacentrus coelestis were collected using light traps at stations on a cross-shelf transect near Northwest Cape, Western Australia, during the spring and summer months (October to February) of 1997-98 and 1998-99. Physical (water temperature, wind) and biological (chlorophyll a, zooplankton abundance) variables were measured concurrently at each station. In 1997-98, environmental conditions were characterised by intrusive upwelling onto the shelf, relatively cooler water temperatures and higher chlorophyll a and zooplankton biomass. During the 1998-99 summer, water temperatures were warmer, and chlorophyll a and zooplankton biomass were relatively low. Catches of P. coelestis were much lower in the first summer (197 fish) than the second (1483 fish). Records of planktonic growth were obtained from otoliths of subsets of larvae from both summers. Growth varied among months within each summer; however, on average, larvae grew more slowly in the 1997-98 summer than the 1998-99 summer (0.48 mm d-1 vs 0.53 mm d-1 respectively), despite the presumed food (copepods) being more abundant in the plankton. Partial correlation analysis showed that water temperature explained approximately 30% of the variation in growth of larval P. coelestis. In contrast, chlorophyll a and zooplankton abundance explained much less (4.1 and 3.5%, respectively).

KEY WORDS: Larval fish · Growth · Otoliths · Food · Copepods · Zooplankton · Temperature

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